How many instances of praise does it take to balance out one negative criticism?
I am aware of a notion called a ‘criticism ratio’, which seems primarily to have been explored in reference to the workplace. In other words, the proportion of praise against criticism (even where constructive) that a person can process yet remain effective. For ‘effective’ we might also read – what? Composed? Content perhaps? ‘Not upset’? Certainly, it’s something that affects our motivation.
Anyway, results on the criticism ratio appear to vary a little, but come out at an average of somewhere just over 5:1— that’s at least five positive comments for every negative. Obviously this quantitative average masks a lot of variables – who’s giving the criticism, how strong or mild, in what context, about what, how much had you invested in the first place…
The amount of criticism we can ‘handle’ is also dependent on the individual, of course, relating to one’s personality. Moreover, there is a difference between brushing off poor feedback and absorbing it, the latter involving reflection, taking the comments on board to inform one’s future development. But deciding which of those responses is better is itself a challenge to detached critical thinking.
I have been thinking about all this in reference to book reviews. If you write, these will test your resilience, for sure. One negative comment can shout out loud enough to reduce an otherwise positive assessment to a meek whisper. And a crushingly negative review… Well just ouch. At times, the ratio of positive to negative criticism one is able to process seems more like 15:1, not 5 or 6.
Three things are needed. First, to toughen up. Negative feedback is going to happen, and as long as it’s not undeniably and overwhelmingly adverse, there is no reason not to continue writing. It’s less easy if a low-star rating has pulled down your average within a modestly-sized pool of reviews, but there we go—It’s not ‘personal’, even though it may feel that way.
The second is to accept and reflect on constructive criticism where reviewers have taken the trouble to leave it. I find that process even harder, skimming comments through splayed fingers. This is the ‘nasty medicine’ of feedback, isn’t it? It tastes bad but is good for you. However, whilst the effect may not be immediate, the constructive points should eventually inform future working.
Finally, one needs to discriminate between ‘destructive’ and ‘constructive’ criticism. I imagine the malicious reviewer to be a rarity, but some reviews are ruthless whilst being brief—they leave one with little but the understanding the book was disliked. One must accept that view or preference, fine, but can do nothing else in response.
Over the past eighteen months I have vacillated on whether I should have been self-publishing at all. This is for a number of reasons. Amongst these is the internal robustness required. It’s a solitary thing to do, with no agent, editor, or ‘team’ in support, though one is grateful for the helpful beta or ARC reader. At the present time, with a lot of professional challenge at work, I plan to step back for a while, looking to rediscover the simple ‘writing for pleasure’ principle. And continue to noodle on my blog.
How do you deal with criticism, and what works best for you?
And I do wonder, if you’re a writer or creator of any kind, how do you deal with a negative review?
Zenger, J. and Folkman, J. ‘The Ideal Praise-to-Criticism Ratio’. in The Harvard Journal, March 2013.https://hbr.org/2013/03/the-ideal-praise-to-criticism
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