May 17, 2010

Reconstructing Criticism: Accuracy

I frequently call accuracy its own virtue, and I even generally mean it. Sure, it's possible to overreach semantic agreement or shared perspective and descend into pedantry or get all persnickety. However, short of that point, accuracy conveys inherent advantages.

This is particularly true when it comes to making criticism constructive. Structuring your message with an eye to accuracy helps you meet several goals. It keeps you focused on what you know, rather than what you surmise, which helps restrict the conversation to behavior. It keeps you from generalizing, helping you to focus on specifics. And a solid check of your statements to verify that you're not overstating your case helps you keep your response proportional.

Beyond all that, accuracy helps build your credibility. Remember, when you're giving criticism, you are, baldly speaking, telling another person or group of people that you know better than they do how something should be done. That requires a fair store of credibility. Getting other things right demonstrates your qualifications directly.

Being accurate also demonstrates that you are putting effort into the relationship with the recipient of your criticism. Like most of the aspects of constructive criticism I've described, accuracy takes work, which may well inspire a similar level of effort on the part of the person being criticized. Do not underestimate the power of reciprocity.

So, strictly speaking, accuracy may or may not be a virtue, but it can certainly help you make your criticisms constructive.


NewEnglandBob said...

I think you can consider accuracy a virtue, since taking the opposite to an extreme is a detriment.

Constructive criticism can some times be a reiterative process when the target of the criticism has broad and ill defined general statements. It can require a calling for more specifics before constructive criticism can be applied. It can be impossible to be specific and accurate when the target is a cloud of amorphous dogma.

Greg Laden said...

I frequently call accuracy its own virtue, and I even generally mean it.

What do you mean, exactly, by "frequency"