How to Critique Someone’s Writing

As a person who makes my living with words, I’m regularly asked to read people’s writing and give feedback. A business plan. A resume. Website copy. A grad school application essay. A profile for an online dating site.

I usually say some variation of yes to the request. But giving feedback is complex. Sometimes the person really wants me re-write the piece, not just give feedback, which makes me feel uncomfortable. People are also vulnerable when they ask for feedback. So I have learned to tread the line between honesty and brutality.

Writers aren’t the only ones who are asked to give this kind of feedback. Everyone gets to play editor from time to time. As friends look for jobs, they need help with resumes and cover letters; children ask for help with essays and papers; bosses and colleagues need to know if a speech or report is up to snuff.

When I’m asked to give feedback, I try to follow the following few ground rules. These guidelines have helped me to be honest yet mindful of people’s feelings. They have also set up some useful boundaries and to create the best environment for helping people.

1. All feedback should include something constructive. When I started teaching seminars for The OpEd Project, the advice I got for reviewing student work was to start with two positive pieces of feedback because people hear constructive/critical feedback better after positive engagement is established. This is probably because of the negativity bias, a psychological phenomenon which causes people to place more emphasis on negative experiences rather than positive ones. {Read the rest at Yahoo!}


How to survive a bad boss

To mangle Tolstoy, good bosses are all alike. They are good mentors; they care about your happiness and advancement; their interests seem aligned with your own.

Bad bosses, on the other hand, come in many flavors. And a new book, “Working for You Isn’t Working for Me,” by Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster, provides a field guide to the many species of bad boss. There’s the “checked out” boss (can these really survive in this kind of job market?), the “rule changer” (who tells you to take a lunch break then seems surprised you’re not at your desk), the “underminer” (who asks you for help and then makes it impossible for you to assist), the “chronic critic” (needs no explanation), and a slew of others. For each bad behavior, the authors give sample scenarios to help you recognize your situation, and then walks you through a process to take back power and correct it.

This is is a book that should sit next to your all your other reference bibles so that you can consult it as difficult situations arise. Meantime, I asked Katherine (KC) and Kathi (KE) to take a answer some questions that seem common enough we’ve all encountered them.

Q:  How is dealing with a bad boss different than dealing with a difficult family member?

KC – Bosses and family members share often many characteristics, but by the time we’re adults, most of us don’t depend on difficult family members for our livelihood. A boss, on the other hand, has direct control over your paycheck and your daily experience at work.  A bad boss is like having a bad business parent who can have a negative impact on your career, your financial future and your confidence.

KE – Fortunately, the workplace offers clearer cut boundaries than home. There are employment laws, and people around who can monitor, filter and support your relationship with your boss.  But, in the family we have fewer options. The four-step process that we lay out in Working for You Isn’t Working for Me (detect, detach, depersonalize, and deal) would in fact work at home as well as in the workplace. {Read the rest at Yahoo!}


Would you let a web site make decisions for you?

I spend a lot of time thinking about improving the way I make decisions so I was intrigued to learn that two new Web sites Let Simon Decide and Hunch, offer free services to help on that front. At first, I thought the whole idea of going online to work on making decisions sounded hokey, but I have a weakness for tests that promise to help with self-awareness and these sites have a little of the same feeling.

If you like to make lists of pros and cons, you’ll probably like Let Simon Decide, which feels like the more serious of the two. Simon (as the site likes to be called) is promoting itself as a tool to make career decisions, among other things, so I spent some time checking it out. To start, the site takes you through a series of questions to identify your decision-making style (e.g. When you buy a car, do you research different models, specs and costs or buy it based on how it looks, or a little of both?). You also get a chance to identify your goals, your current life situation, your personality type, and your favorite activities. Once you’ve filled in all of this — or at any time in the process – you can jump over to the “make a decision now” red button and get started.

{Read the rest at Yahoo!}


An easy way to make tough decisions: 5 questions for Suzy Welch

Several weeks ago, I saw Suzy Welch on the Today show talking about her new book, 10-10-10. The book offers a simple tool for making decisions in all corners of life.

Here’s how it works: When working through a decision, you let yourself go down various paths and you explore the way the decision could unfold on those various paths over the next 10 minutes, over the next 10 months, and over the next 10 years. Those time frames aren’t meant to be exact; they are stand-ins meant to help you look at how the making of an important decision might affect the short-term, the medium-term, and long-term periods of your life.

From the moment I saw that interview, I was 10-10-10-ing every decision, from whether to take a new assignment that threatened to ruin a pre-planned vacation, to how to confront a close friend who had offended me. My old standby of writing down pros and cons was quickly supplanted by this new method, and I’ve now tested it in scores of situations. In short, I’m a believer. Which is why I wanted to share Welch’s ideas on this blog. I interviewed her by phone about how to use 10-10-10 to make better decisions around career issues. The following is an edited version of our conversation:

{Read the rest at Yahoo!}


Nieman Conference Wrap-Up

I’ve just returned from the annual Nieman Narrative Journalism Conference at Harvard where the mood was a mix of anxiety and inspiration. The anxiety came from the many staffers who had recently lost jobs or were preparing for that possibility. The inspiration came from the heady conversations about craft and narrative that typically characterize this gathering of master storytellers and those aspiring to that title.

Since this was a conference where almost all the attendees and speakers were journalists, and where people were live blogging and tweeting, there are plenty of vivid recaps of the event. So I’ll spare you the full-blown summary.

Read more »


Under the Sway of a New Book

A new book explores the psychological forces that cause rational people to act in irrational ways.

Overcoming the ‘Sway’ in Professional Life

“Sway” is a provocative new book about the psychological forces that lead us to disregard facts or logic and behave in surprisingly irrational ways.

Read the column.


Self-promotion, revisited

In today’s Shifting Careers column at I revisited the always-popular terrain of self-promotion, with a specific focus on introverts, who tend to have an even more difficult time than most tooting their own horns.


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