I’m touchy. Probably a consequence of my, well, feeling of consequence. I think I’m really good at what I do, in fact, I have a secret conviction that I’m the best at what I do.

It’s one of the reasons I don’t do that well in heirarchical organizations. I find it impossible to wrap my brain, or behavior, around the  concept that because someone has a more important job than me, it means that they are either more important than me, or somehow better than me.  Not, there aren’t people more important or better than me, more that I consider these to be intrinsic attributes or earned accolades, not things that can be awarded based simply on longevity, age, or seniority. We’ve all had incompetent bosses, right?

When I write something, my instinct is to seek input, but my reaction to that input is often prickly and defensive, especially when presented as “I’ve fixed this for you.”

But I also have a bone-deep belief in collaboration and cooperation. I like “buy-in.” I don’t like to hand tablets down from the mountain anymore than I like to receive them.

This article got me thinking about this. The blogger is talking about offering criticism.

But what if you’re soliciting it?

Now, by soliciting criticism I don’t mean going to your boss or colleague and ask “what am I doing wrong.” I mean simply sharing your work, and asking for input, or as I often request: “comment, proof, edit, add, correct.”  What I’m looking for is not for my reader to “fix” my work, but to confirm that I am saying what I think I’m saying. Here’s some ideas on how to provide input on someone else’s work.

Don’t rewrite anything
Your advice has not been sought because the writer thinks his or her work is bad. What they really want is confirmation, and spell check. If you think something is really wrong or really bad, don’t just change it and say “this is better.” Tell the writer you don’t understand the point they’re making, and say “I think this what you’re trying to say: [stealth rewrite.]” This allows the writer to accept a needed change without losing face or admitting fault.

Don’t rewrite everything
Seriously. I’ve gotten documents back where the only relation to the original is that they’re both typed. Massive rewrites are telling the writer two things: you’re incompetent and I don’t trust you. If a document needs that drastic a rewrite, you need a face to face meeting to make sure everyone understands the goal of whatever the document is.

Don’t assume that a request for help is an admission of failure
I firmly believe that you cannot proof your own work. You won’t see the mistakes or odd phrasings. So someone else has to read it. My handing you a document does not mean I think the document necessarily requires revision. It means I need someone to make sure this is comprehensible, and likely to achieve its goal, whatever that is.

Accept stylistic differences
This is a tricky one. Some organizations are going to have very narrow style guidelines dictating things from language to format to paragraph length. But every piece of writing is better if the voice of the writer comes through. If the document follows the organization’s general format and meets standards of grammar, factuality and comprehension, don’t change something just because you would have said it differently. Tweaking for standards, correcting facts or grammar are fine; rewriting a perfectly good piece of work out of ego is rude.

Be honest about what you want
If you want a writer to jumpstart your own document, let them know this upfront. Some people use this tactic to overcome their own writers block. But don’t ask someone to invest a lot of time and ownership in a document that you know is going to go through a complete rewrite.

Don’t make it better
Or if you do, don’t tell the original writer that you’ve made it better. This will just make them defensive, and might cause them to dig their heels in over something that really does need to be changed.

Any organization needs control over its message. But an organization isn’t only, or even mainly, brand or message. An organization is the people that inhabit it. Let them have a voice.