“The critical friend is a powerful idea because it contains an inherent tension. Friends bring a high degree of unconditional regard. … Critics are, at first sight at least, conditional, negative and intolerant of failure. Perhaps the critical friend comes close to what might be regarded as the ‘true friendship’ – a successful marrying of unconditional support and unconditional critique.” (MacBeath and Jardine, 1998)
I generally relate the idea of a critical friend to the process of writing, probably because this was the first realm in which the need for a critical friend was introduced to me. However, a critical friend is a concept that works in many other areas including professional development. When asked through the OntarioExtend Daily Extend #oext172 to recommend a node in my network to the #ExtendWest group, I thought of my critical friend, Patrick Redko. Patrick is a fellow faculty at St. Clair College who teaches in the Interior Design program.
A critical friend is different from a mentor or a colleague, in my opinion and frankly, hard to find. Here’s my idea of a critical friend:
A critical friend is a peer. Someone in the trenches, doing similar work, having similar challenges but far enough away from your immediate work to offer a different perspective.
A critical friend is trustworthy. Someone who will not share details of your work, struggles or failings with others in a way that could harm you.
A critical friend is genuinely interested in your success. Someone who wants you to do well and grow and will celebrate your achievements; someone who recognizes that your achievements do not diminish their own.
A critical friend is willing to challenge you. Someone who is willing to point out flaws, to question your thinking and decisions and to debate different points of view, for your betterment, for the thrill of intellectual discourse and because there is value in the process for both of you.
A critical friend is willing to invest time and energy in you. Someone who is willing to take the time to listen to you, to review your work, and to provide thoughtful feedback.
Having a critical friend and/or being a critical friend is not for the faint of heart; it is not easy to receive or give criticism. However, I highly recommend looking for one for it will be a professional relationship unlike any other.