"Snotty and boring." Those are the exact words a literary agent used years ago to describe a manuscript I'd sent for her consideration. I'll never forget her pointed critique, just as I've never forgotten the reasons a youthful crush gave when he broke up with me more than two decades ago. I was "not aloof enough," he said, somewhat sheepishly, and I didn't wear enough makeup.
Like everyone else I know, I've had some harrowing experiences with negative feedback. I can give as good as I get, too. When I was teaching writing in a university, one of my better students threatened to punch me in the face after we discussed how to improve her thesis.
Who among us can't relate to her reaction? Criticism is by definition something no one wants to hear. At best, it's annoying; at worst, it may seem to threaten our identity, even our very survival. Is there any right way to say it, or to hear it?