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My Take on Critique Groups
Author Katherin Hayton
Once they attain that exulted level we then put them onto ‘Buddy Signing’ and this is where we sometimes strike problems.
When you’re new at a job, especially one that involves attention to detail and memorising great swathes of information, you expect someone with more experience to tell you when you’re doing things wrong. Nobody likes it, but you deal with it because – duh – it’s your job.
You also take criticism from direct customers. You got something wrong on their policy, you handle the phone-call to explain why and what you’re going to do about it. Again this is perfectly fair and exactly what everyone in any type of customer service role expects.
The problem with ‘Buddy Signing’ is that you’re being judged by someone who doesn’t have more experience. Nor do your errors have a direct impact on their policy.
The problem with a buddy, is that they’re exactly like you.
And that means that when someone in the same boat as you pours criticism, even well-deserved, even well-meaning, even expected, on your work you feel belittled. Because they’re no better than you. By their very nature they are your true peers, with no more and no less experience than you have, so where do they get off telling you what to do?
What does that do to a nice working relationship? It causes havoc. We have buddy signers whose work we have to go back to having an experienced processor check because their error rates sky-rocket. Is this because they suddenly become useless? No – it’s because they pick on every little thing as a tit-for-tat measure against their buddy.
We also have buddy signers whose rates of output freefalls dangerously close to absolute zero. Why? Is it because they suddenly have the task of signing someone’s work in addition to their usual duties? Not often. It’s usually because they’re spending every minute of the day compulsively checking their work in case they’ve made an error, because so-and-so marked them down for one the other day and it’s knocked their confidence level to nil.
Or we have buddy signers who start processing so much work that no one can keep up with their output. This is okay because their errors decrease along with the increase in output until they are fully proficient members of staff. They also become self-signing. This is actually the thing we’re trying to achieve whilst often managing instead to drive the behaviours above.
It’s this third one that everyone joining a critique group thinks they’re going to get. Well, you’re not. As soon as you realise that everyone in your critique group is in the same position that you’re in they’re going to pick on option one or two and you’re all going to drive each other crazy. Yes, you’ll feel great when somebody compliments your work, but often in groups there’s a rule (even if unspoken) that you don’t hand someone criticism unless you also hand them encouragement.
When I was a team leader this was the way we were originally taught to give feedback to staff on their job performance. It’s called sandwiching, and it’s meant to ensure that you don’t pump up a staff member so much they’re not aware they’re making errors, but also not dragging them down so low that they feel they’re not getting anywhere and start to think about jumping ship and trying something new.
It doesn’t work.
The best practice we now teach is that you hand staff members ONE piece of feedback. If it’s good it’s the only good thing. If it’s bad it’s the only bad thing.
Because people who are overly complimentary about their own standards of behaviour will never hear bad feedback when it’s sandwiched with good feedback. And people with low confidence will never hear good feedback when it comes parcelled with bad. So you tell people, as soon as the feedback incident occurs, what your opinion is. Good or bad, but not both. So they actually hear what you’re saying.
If you’re in a critique group try to keep that in mind. Remember that if you’ve got one piece good, one piece bad, it doesn’t convey meaning. Not without knowing if they had to spend three hours trying to find something good to say about your work. Not without knowing if they thought the whole thing was fantastic but felt they had to criticise something because, well because that’s the point of a critique group, isn’t it?
So I don’t think critique groups give you accurate feedback without slanting for retribution, lowering your output, or leaving you confused as to which way you’re heading. But I would still recommend you join one.
The one thing they’re really good for is exposing you to other people’s opinions, and helping you to grow a thick skin. You’ll be getting a lot of one, and needing a lot of the other, if you’re releasing anything into the wild.
Rena Sutherland wakes from a coma into a mother’s nightmare. Her daughter’s is missing – lost for four days – but no one has noticed; no one has complained; no one has been searching.
As the victim support officer assigned to her case, Christine Emmett puts aside her own problems as she tries to guide Rena through the maelstrom of her daughter’s disappearance.
A task made harder by an ex-husband desperate for control; a paedophile on early-release in the community; and a psychic who knows more than seems possible.
And intertwined throughout, the stories of six women; six daughters lost.
I set out the chairs in a circle. In my head I counted off each person as I placed their seat. Terry, dead daughter; Ilene, missing daughter; Kendra, missing daughter; Joanne, sick daughter; Christine, dead daughter. That last one is me, by the way.
There used to be a need for more chairs. I had quite the group running at one stage. Not now. We’ve dwindled and whittled our way to a close knit bunch. Like a knitting circle with barbed tongues driving all the young and optimistic members away.
I remember when I was talked into setting up this group. I was whining away to an old colleague one day and she mentioned that I may be helped by a support group. A support group! I “reminded” her that I was a fully qualified psychiatrist who had once had a roaring career until I realised how futile the entire field was. I wasn’t someone who attended a support group. I was the one to run it.
Famous last words.
There was a crunch of gravel outside and I walked to the window to have a nosey. Not one of mine. An elderly gent made slow progress towards the temporary library. He swayed so deeply from foot to foot he looked like a Weeble in full wobble.
I laid out a half packet of stale gingernuts which had mysteriously survived in our pantry and hoped that no one was feeling too hungry.
Ever since I was three year’s old I’ve been reading everything I can lay my hands on. It’s been my passion, my solace, my comfort. I used to look forward to Wednesday nights which were the time that my mother would take me, and any of my siblings who wanted to go – so usually just me, to the library.
It would be wonderful, thrilling, and risky. I was only able to take three books out each week, and only one of those could get a free pass on fees. If I picked the wrong one I would be stuck with it for a whole week. Not only stuck with it, but I’d have to read a bad book cover to cover because otherwise I’d have to do something else, and that was not really what I was after. I did go outside, and played outside, and watched TV like any normal kid, but that was just stuff you filled in time with until you could read again.
Throughout my childhood there was never anything I wanted to do but become a writer – it seemed the only natural progression to my life. Then I crawled inside a bottle for fourteen years, and when I popped back out I was working in an office job in a travel agency, my mother was dead, and I was clueless as to how I was meant to get my life back on track.
About the time I started to seriously study the craft of writing, something that used to come naturally to me but had grown incredibly hard through lack of use, I also had a change in career path into insurance (not as big a change as it might seem as it was really from one office job to another with a brighter future and better career path.) I started to challenge myself in my professional life, and my personal life, so instead of focussing in on writing I instead tried out a range of different hobbies, followed up on fleeting interests, tried to learn to play the saxophone which my partner was glad was a short-lived affair, and generally did all of the things I should’ve spent my teens and twenties doing but hadn’t.
But of course I always circled back to writing. Reading and writing. My passion remains the same but instead of skimming widely across any and all genres I’ve narrowed down and done a deep-dive into crime fiction which has been my favourite for over a decade now.
I love the fact that I’ve been reading the same genre of fiction for more than ten years now, and still find new and interesting things with every book that I pick up. Now I’m trying to bring something new and unique to me to the genre. And soon I might finally get back on track to being the person that I always wanted to be.
Author Page: amazon.com/author/katherinehayton