(Or, Extra-Snarky Review? Bygones.)
In 1997, I had a favorite show, Ally McBeal. It was one of those lawyer/trial shows meets Sex in the City meets an adult version of Glee. Both ridiculous and serious. Loved. It. Unisex bathroom and all. Anywho, one of the partners of the law firm, Richard Fish, went around verbally cutting down his subordinates at every conceivable juncture. But the only apology from him was one word: Bygones. And it was rendered right after the verbal slaying.
When I worked in the Corporately World, I dealt with about a hundred e-mails a day. *cue the shuddering* I worked in a global company and because of the differences in time zones, e-mails were the only way to communicate efficiently, and these messages served as black-and-white proof of "conversations/agreements." Sometimes, though, in the fast-paced, get-it-done environment, I had to deal with some pretty snarky messages. In fact, they smarted enough for me to wince at times, especially when the snarkiness centered around something I'd done, that I put my name on and took pride in.
These emails left me with a What Do You Mean You Hate It Are You Stoopit reaction. I wasn't alone. My co-workers also received like-worded emails, and we'd collectively commiserate on the misfortune of working with Corporately Stoopitness. However, snarky emails flew like autumnal flocks, and after a while I came up with a strategy.
- Never respond to a snarky email right after reading it. Have a cup of (*insert favorite work beverage here, diet coke works for me*). Or wait until after lunch. Sleep on it if necessary (though not during work hours). But here's the magic I'd discovered: the email doesn't sting quite so much after giving it some time to settle.
- After an appropriate amount of time has passed, re-read the message while imagining a non-snarky tone. Use Elmo's voice if necessary. Consider whether Stoopit had just been careless on the delivery, and didn't really mean to snark all over your day. Sometimes the snark turned out to be a self-inflicted figment of my imagination.
- Go back and do some investigation. Maybe my work was not as perfect as I thought I was, or maybe my initial conversation/email was abrupt. If whatever I'd done had been at all unclear, incomplete, or otherwise misunderstandable, then I'd fix it. Pure and simple. Boom.
- If there was something in the snarky email that was unclear, that perhaps could go snarky or not, I'd follow up (taking care not to set off an email war). To do this, I used questions. Do you mean this or that?
- Sometimes, the person was being snarky just to be snarky. But maybe she had a bad day. Perhaps she hated me. Or. Maybe I'd just pick up the phone and talk it out. (I actually made more career-long comrades this way than I can count. Usually, the person was having a hellish moment and lashed out, and she needed someone, AKA me, to talk to about it.*)
- Rarely, when no reasonable resolution to the issue could be found, I had to accept Snarky Emailer as my arch rival and try to avoid her in future corporately dealings. Bygones.
- Don't respond to it right away. It's always nice to get back to the critiquer and thank them, but sometimes, it's not possible at the first pass. Especially when the comments feel unnecessarily snarky. So have a cup of (*insert favorite writerly beverage here*). Eat a meal. Sleep on it. Listen to Mozart. Dance a jig or two.
- Re-read the critique to see if the snarkiness is self-inflicted. It's hard to know what the true tone of the writer is behind the review without telepathy (which has always been an issue for yours truly), so try to read it in a simple, calm tone.
- Go back and see if there is anything valid in the feedback. The critiquer read your work and put some thoughts together. They may be way off, or they may be right on. Figure out which it is and revise as appropriate.
- Maybe she didn't mean it? Sometimes the critiquer left off in the middle of a thought, so a statement came across the wrong way (I've done that!), or maybe they meant to be funny but it came across as mean-spirited. Follow up with her. It might be worth your while.
- Maybe you like her. For a critiquer you've known for a while and with whom you'd rather maintain a writerly relationship than not, you could approach her and find out what is behind the comments. Maybe it reminded her of something difficult from her past. Or maybe she was especially crabby that day for other reasons.* Maybe she didn't take the time to re-read her comments before sending them off, and didn't realize how it affected you.
- Maybe she's bad news. Some critiquers leave people skills behind during reviews, who are Snarky For The Sake of Snark. When this is the case, it's best to just part ways. And that's okay. What you need for your work is constructive, thoughtful feedback. Take the high road, thank them for their time, and then pursue other critiquing relationships.
*Not that I condone displaced snarkiness.