Criticism is hard. It’s one of the most difficult parts of work—hell, life too—regardless of what you do. And yet, it’s absolutely essential, and learning how to give and receive feedback is a key skill anyone can, and very much should, learn.In my career as a designer I’ve encountered all sorts of feedback mechanisms, and have many thoughts on how best to give and receive feedback. To really dive into that is more than I want to do right now. Our time is valuable, so I figured I highlight my strongest belief regarding criticism:For criticism to be of any value, it has to be the responsibility of all parties involved.GivingWhen giving feedback you are as much responsible for the outcome of that feedback as the person receiving it. You should be engaged, and if you’re not, just offering an un-asked for opinion with no outcome or motivation in mind, you probably shouldn’t be sharing. Brene Brown has this awesome quote in her article, Why Your Critics Aren’t The Ones Who Count: “If you’re not in the arena, also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in getting your feedback.”This is great, and a good point, but not the whole story. Constructive criticism is always worth listening to, but it needs to have a point and come from an active and engaged place. If you’re “in the cheap seats, not putting yourself on the line” as she puts it, the feedback is a distraction at best. Sadly, this is how a lot of criticism is given.You want to have a say? Get in the arena and put yourself on the line. Explain yourself, be willing and able to answer questions about your feedback. Be willing to actually help out a bit. Have an intent and purpose behind your critique. This is how real, helpful feedback is done.ReceivingYou may be wondering what sorts of responsibility you’d need to embrace on the receiving end. First and most important: you must be willing to take that feedback, especially if you ask for it. Feedback is a gift and an opportunity. If you ask for critique and expect a blessing, which happens way to often, you’re bound to be disappointed and, frankly, you’re also being kind of an asshole. There is nothing wrong with wanting approval, but it is the the worst when you ask for feedback, get it, and then get upset because it doesn’t meet up with your expectations. Critique is not about approval, it’s about making things better.So, start by being open to feedback. Embrace the inherent vulnerability that comes along with it and realize that while it might hurt a bit, the goal is to make whatever you’re doing better. When receiving criticism, especially when it’s disengaged or unwanted, it’s easy to get defensive (fight) or withdraw (flight), but it’s best to try and not do either.Again, feedback is a gift. Be grateful for it. Even feedback you don’t ask for. You’ll get feedback you don’t like, sure, and some that’s cruel. Handle it with grace, and do your best to receive it with an open mind. When you get criticism that you don’t understand or agree with, ask questions. Try to get to the root of things. Don’t ignore or push your critics away. Try to pull them in. Cajole them into engaging with you to get to what they really think. If that doesn’t work, feel free to take what you want and let the rest go. If it doesn't seem actionable or helpful, it might not be. And that's fine. Take what you can use and let the rest be.Critique is hard. It requires a lot of practice and is a skill you’ll never really master. Having said that, it’s best when expressed with intent, with a positive outcome in mind, and as an open dialog.What do you think? Let’s talk about it. I’m @dkr on Twitter.