I've had the luxury of taking several writing classes in the last few years. Mostly, critique sessions within those classes take on a standard structure: Writer hands out the story. Reviewers read it and give comments on what they think is working and what isn't.
But, occasionally, I've found myself in groups that like to mix it up a little. Some alternative critique styles include:
A) Only saying positive things
B) Only asking questions
C) Letting the reading start off another conversation, any type of conversation.
The first two methods probably seem at least sensible, even if they aren't your preferred method. You may think that it isn't helpful to not get direct comments on what isn't working, but I'd argue that sometimes these alternatives let us see our work in a different way. The third method, at first, seemed completely pointless to me. I wrote a story, and the group started talking about Thai food! Then, I stepped back and remembered that the people leading the discussions were writers that had been working for decades. Like, four decades. Maybe they knew something I didn't know.
When we let someone read our work and they give us feedback on it, this isn't a one-way road. Remember that who the person is affects their response as much as your actual writing does. Rather than take a comment at face value--"I didn't like your protagonist"--figure out why your reviewer didn't like the protagonist. It may because the reader doesn't like anyone who isn't a vegetarian, or anyone who isn't from Jupiter. As objective as a reviewer tries to be, they come to your work with expectations, and you should try to know what those expectations are. Learn the language of your book reviewer.
Getting back to my third example of critique styles, what I realized was that these digressions my teachers allowed to happen were pretty good reflections of what non-writing readers would do after reading a story. Rather than thinking about how it could be better--which also happens, I'm sure--many readers will simply let the piece sink in and affect their thoughts and their moods. That's good to know, and if I didn't want the conversation to stray a certain way, I had to think about what I was putting into the story that triggered those thoughts. To this day, this reviewing style helps me when I write. Almost any review, as cryptic as it may seem at first, has the potential to be helpful.
What's the most mysterious comment you've ever gotten on your writing? What did you do to make sense of it? In the end, was it helpful?