In the magic world, if you drum up the courage to perform for other magicians, you will eventually be criticized by other magicians on your performance. Often magicians can be very harsh with their critiques.
Some parts of a performance that are nitpicked by magicians play very well for normal everyday people. Other times the criticism is much needed and helpful. I can remember doing a card trick once and a friend told me I needed to go back through Card College Vol 1 (an important magic book) and learn how to hold and handle cards. He was right, I took his advice and now I’m better for it.
Here are three questions in my mind concerning the topic of criticism:
- How should you accept criticism?
- Why do people (magicians) criticize?
- How should you give criticism?
1. How should you accept criticism?
First, I believe you should ask yourself: what is the motive of this criticism?
We are a flawed species and we often give criticism with flawed motives. There are actually people out there who believe they must knock you down a few notches to feel better about themselves. If you haven’t met this type, just wait, live a little longer and you will.
On the other hand criticism can be given with a sincere motive of wanting to help a fellow magician improve. Even criticism with flawed motives can be helpful and make you a better performer.
The point is be aware that not all criticism is helpful but rather sometimes downright hurtful. If you are aware and prepared for this going into it, you are psychologically able to guard yourself from getting hurt. The danger with hurtful criticism is it can snuff out the hopeful ideas of an aspiring performer and they will never live up to their full potential.
Whatever the motive of the criticism, the safe and respectful answer is “thank you.” You simply acknowledge what was said, and you decide if you want to choose to apply any of the advice.
2. Why do people (in this case magicians) criticize?
We all have a fundamental desire to feel significant and to feel respected. I believe this is a root of criticism, helpful and hurtful criticism. As magicians, we are knowledgable in a highly specialized skill, and we often never receive any recognition for this knowledge. When you’re starved to feel significance for this uncommon knowledge you feel so passionate about, it’s no wonder criticism can come out heavy handed.
Seth Godin made a blog post on March 1, 2014, one thought from the post:
When someone gives you gentle feedback, it’s because they want to connect
Although his post wasn’t directly on this same topic, I believe the thought applies here. Not only do we want to feel significant, we also have a fundamental desire to connect with others.
The problem is, for many of us, the older we get the worse we become at connecting with others, or to put it simply, making friends.
I believe we criticize for two reasons: 1) to feel significant 2) to make friends.
For every behavior there’s a reason.
Of course most of the time we don’t realize the reason of our behavior and when we give hurtful criticism we sabotage ourselves in our desperation to fulfill these two desires of feeling significance and making friends.
3. How should you give criticism?
Here’s two ideas: speak to a person’s potential and give them a sandwich.
Speak to a person’s potential. The person may be miles from being able to perform in public, tell them where you would like to see them and express a belief that they can get there. Tell them you’d really like to see them continue working on that piece. “Give them a reputation to live up to.” Dale Carnegie
Give them a sandwich (constructive criticism)
1 praise, 1 criticism, 1 praise
Avoid the temptation to give 20 criticisms and 0 praises. It’s human nature to just give 20 criticisms. Rise above it. There was only one Dai Vernon. No one else since has had the unique level of authority and the lovable yet crabby disposition to get away with giving 20 criticisms and still be loved for it. Especially not you. Don’t do it.
The overriding concept whether you are giving criticism or receiving criticism is be the gracious person, be the bigger person.
Remember that for every behavior there is a reason. Even if that behavior is harsh, hurtful criticism, there is a reason the person expresses himself this way outside of your performance.
If you are the bigger person and show someone appreciation for their criticism, you might win a new friend, and good friends aren’t easy to come by.