Constructive and Unconstructive Criticism: How to handle and benefit from both

business men phonecallLet’s face it – for most of us, criticism is very hard to hear, especially if the person delivering the criticism isn’t exactly subtle about it. Whether it comes in a constructive or unconstructive form, as a voice-over artist, you’re bound to face criticisms of all kinds on your work, often in an unsolicited manner.

Take the time my Mom was at my place when I was recording a callback for a big audition. I really wanted the job, and I was excited to have made it to the next step in the process. I was feeling confident that the client liked what I had to offer, and I was fired up about heading to the mic to lay down some awesomeness. My Mom sat there quietly at first, but when I started editing the tracks in order to submit them, she suddenly spoke-up. “You sound fake. You need to sound more like you mean what you’re saying. It doesn’t sound very good.”

Well, I didn’t react well to this. AT ALL. I immediately snapped back, “You don’t really know what you’re talking about, so I don’t need your advice.” I was offended, angry, and hurt. In that moment I was completely unable to hear anything she had to say. More importantly, I was unwilling to accept that her criticism could possibly have any value. I stopped editing, made us some lunch, and in a couple of hours my Mom was on her way back home.

That’s when a funny thing happened: I went back to editing my takes, and do you know what? She was right. My delivery sounded hollow. I was on autopilot and I wasn’t connected to the copy. I didn’t sound like I meant what I was saying. I scrapped the whole session and re-recorded it with clarity, intent, and purpose. I didn’t get the gig, but I learned something: that criticism, even when it sounds unconstructive, can be very useful, and that I had no idea how to deal with criticism, let alone accept it.

Learning to make the most of criticism took me some time, and I’m still working on mastering it. Here are some practices that have helped me along the way:

Accept criticism with grace. First, resist the urge to react immediately to critical feedback. It’s easy to feel defensive and to immediately fire back at the critic with anger or a counter-argument, or even to panic in that moment. Instead, take a deep breath and refrain from reacting. Then, remind yourself of the potential benefits of receiving criticism, no matter the form it comes in: improving your work, providing a better product to your clients, furthering creativity, or learning something valuable about yourself.

Consider the source. Who is delivering the criticism, and do you value their opinion? If they’re a client, chances are you should take their criticism seriously in order to successfully provide them with what they need. Maybe the person is someone who thinks they’re an expert, but just likes to give criticism in order to feel superior and in control. While both situations can offer something valuable, you definitely want to take some opinions with the proverbial grain of salt.

Listen critically to the criticism. Yup, that’s what I said. If you can separate your emotions from the experience of receiving criticism and really hear what is being said, then you can strive to understand the points being brought up. While receiving criticism is difficult, giving it can be very hard too. As a result, even a person with the best intentions can give criticism in an insensitive or unclear way. Don’t interrupt the person, and once they are done speaking, calmly ask follow-up questions that can further help you to understand what they are really trying to say.

Take notes!  Writing it down makes the criticism feel less personal. Then make a pros-and-cons list with what bothers you about the criticism you just received in one column, and what seems useful about it in the other.

Distance yourself from the criticism, then come back to it later. Once the interaction is over, walk away if possible. If time allows, try to put all the information and the processing of the experience aside. Do something nice for yourself, then come back later with a fresh perspective. Hopefully you’ll find the things that can help you grow as a voice-over actor, and move forward having learned something from the experience.

Having an opportunity to better yourself and your work is a gift, even though it doesn’t always come in the prettiest wrapping. In the end, earning to deal with criticism in all it’s forms in an honest and proactive way is a positive thing. Even when it comes from your Mom!

Want to dig deeper into the world of constructive criticism? Check out our Marketing & Career Advisory Program with Joleene Derks.

Claudine is also an Emmy Award-winning director/producer, commercial and promotional voice talent for brands like Verizon, Listerine, and MasterCard, native Brooklynite, published photographer, and and was the live announcer for the first ever televised Hollywood Film Awards on CBS.




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