The Unnamed Technique (Or, “Why a Second Set of Eyes is Always Useful”)

by | September 24, 2012

I had an AWESOME post ready to roll for the blog this week. It was all about how to convey constructive criticism to your mentor when something’s not right about the relationship. I got the idea from a friend who’s used this approach many times with employees, and whose I idea was, I thought, perfect for coaching learners to do something very difficult: offer a critique to someone who has power over your dissertation progress. (More on the actual method below.)

The post was written and revised. Before I uploaded it to the blog, I decided to ask a colleague to take a quick look and give me feedback. Am I ever glad I did! Turns out that the term my friend has always used for this approach is also a euphemism for an “adult” practice. (There is also a very dirty song with the same phrase.) Boy, am I out of touch. I thanked my colleague for saving me from massive embarrassment and scrapped the post. And then I laughed and laughed.

What did I learn from this? I learned that, even years after I’ve finished my dissertation, the instinct to avoid writing in isolation is still one I should trust. And it’s one I hope you develop if you haven’t already, dear dissertator. Most mentors are kind and professional enough to point potentially embarrassing errors out to you, yes. But wouldn’t it be so much better if a colleague you trusted caught this kind of error before you shared it with your mentor or committee? And further, wouldn’t it be great if you caught this kind of error for a friend? Most importantly, doesn’t this give you a sense of community—that “we’re all in this together”?

In case you’re wondering, here is the idea without the title:

  1. Describe what’s working in the process or what you value in that mentor. Be genuine, even though you might have to dig a bit if the relationship’s been particularly rocky. Most people do something right.
  2. Express your concern about what’s not working in a way that suggests the thing you value might be in jeopardy if this issue isn’t corrected. Be specific; saying, “I want to have more phone conversations” isn’t going to get you anywhere, while “I’d really like to start each quarter with a 30-minute phone conversation to set goals for the quarter” hits the nail on the head.
  3. Follow up by expressing confidence that your mentor will understand your reason for asking and also value the relationship enough to tackle this concern. Express excitement about what this interaction will do to facilitate your progress through the dissertation.

And no, I’m not telling you what the phrase was. But it was really funny and awful, and BOY am I glad I had a second set of eyes on my draft.