If you’ve ever written anything that had to be reviewed by committee, you know it can be painful. And when the team gets together for group review meetings, it can feel like a jury trial. Here are some ideas for how to keep your cool and make these review sessions more productive.
It’s not that easy to critique others’ creative work.
Most people don’t learn the fine points of constructive editing, including how to help a writer save face while you deliver criticism. That sounds like a good blog post for another time, because today, we’re not here to talk about etiquette. We’re here to talk about survival. Your clients, colleagues, boss, or whomever just need to deliver their comments in an efficient manner so you can all get back to work. Many people do fear hurting others’ feelings during reviews, and sometimes this fear actually makes them nervous. You can take command of the situation and make it easier for everyone, including yourself.
What can you do to make review meetings productive?
- Begin by reviewing the project goals and parameters. Folks, prepare this part carefully ahead of time. If the project was ill-defined or poorly managed, and that has affected your work, point out that this a work in progress and explain why, being very careful not to sound apologetic, defensive, or insulting. Even if you do think the project and your contribution are on track, it’s still good to explain how you got to this point.
- Compliment good changes and ideas at every realistic opportunity. Make your reviewers feel like you respect their authority and that you are ready to collaborate. Craft your responses to their critiques with an explanation of why a particular change does makes sense if they’ve given you new information or perspective. Don’t sound like you’re blaming anyone, including yourself.
- If you can’t immediately answer a question, say so. Then get back to the person or group with an answer as soon as possible after the meeting.
- Presume innocence. Think of critical comments as just “appreciative inquiry,” and assume that everyone simply wants to get a better product out the door. Listen to, and probe as necessary, about the exact meaning of a comment or directive. Don’t worry right away about the reviewer’s attitude or tone of voice, or what anything means for your job or relationships. You can take that up later, offline.
- Let most things slide. Ask for clarification or discussion only on things that you truly don’t understand or about which there appears to be disagreement.
- Try to stay neutral when reviewers debate each other. Give them space unless the process gets stuck. If they reach an impasse, use questions (appreciative inquiry) to help them resolve the dispute.
- If you have to disagree, here’s a little trick. To the remark that you disagree with, simply say, “Well, there is that. But then there’s…” and give your opposing opinion. It’s an oddly vague but totally harmless way to keep people from becoming defensive.
- Be pleasant and act relaxed but don’t make jokes. Some day I promise to tell you a very, very bad story about ill-timed jokes in client meetings.
- At the end, recap major changes and say thanks. Do the best you can to make sure everyone is on the same page before you leave. Show your reviewers gratitude for their time and attention, even if you feel very grouchy and want to run out and send an “OMG u cant believe the mtg I just sat thru” texts to your spouse or BFF.
Bottom-line: always put relationships first.
Yes, you poured a lot of yourself into this creative work and you’re proud of it, but ultimately, these are words and words are just tools. You’re a good writer and you can find other words if that’s what your clients want. Being a good listener and team player is the best way to get invited back to the table.
I know this list isn’t complete. What else would you recommend?
Photo credit: W.S. Gilbert (d. 1911) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons