Constructive Criticism: 6 tips on receiving (and giving) feedback

Thursday, September 8, 2016

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Marketing, advertising – and more broadly, creativity – is a tough business. Clients, users, audiences, co-workers and others subjectively review the work we create everyday. Feedback, both good and bad, is ubiquitous. In my role as the primary conduit between clients and creative, understanding how to give and get feedback is crucial to keeping both parties happy. Here are a few tips:

Giving feedback

Providing “good” feedback doesn’t have to be difficult. Sometimes client-service people are in a position to relay feedback from a client team and other times we’re advocating for the client position before sharing. In either case, three simple rules can help.

Ask questions.

Often the best feedback is something that can be discussed and agreed upon. When we’re requesting changes, we often make assumptions about why a certain color or image was chosen. By asking questions and understanding the deeper reason, you can more specifically shape the feedback and direction given, while ensuring everyone is on the same page as to why.

Talk about problems, not solutions.

It’s easy to say “make the logo bigger,” but in fact, that isn’t helpful feedback, nor does it really make for better work. Instead talk about the problem that needs solved (“It’s too hard to connect this work with the company.”).

Be respectful.

Sure, you might be having a bad day. Sure, you might think the work looks like garbage. It might even BE garbage, but it’s helpful to always remember someone created what you’re critiquing. And creativity is hard. And personal. Even when it’s not right. Remembering that can help your feedback land more receptively.

Getting feedback

Okay. Not every piece of feedback you get is going to follow the suggestions above. Since you can only control how you respond to feedback, not the way feedback is given, take a breath and think through these suggestions:

Ask questions.

Same as when giving feedback, questions can be your best friend. Typically bad feedback isn’t all that helpful, so asking questions and digging deeper (even when your face is burning in frustration) is a great way to get past your initial response and figure out what you need to do to make it better.

Remember, it’s about the work, not you.

My college professor had the best analogy about creative work: spit in a cup and take a look. That’s your creative product. Sure, it used to be a part of you and it was made by you, but you definitely don’t want it back. Remembering feedback is about the WORK, not the PERSON, is an easy way to focus on making it better.

Separate your interpretation from the facts.

This post on 99u.com provides four writing prompts to help you separate. Write down:

  • The fact of what happened (for example, “Six publishers have rejected my book proposal.”)
  • Your current interpretation of the facts (for example, “The proposal is embarrassingly bad.”)
  • Five other interpretations of the facts (for example, “I haven’t found the right fit yet” or “I may need to make the marketing section stronger” or “Having a personal introduction to an editor might really help.”) Bring in a friend to brainstorm with you if you have trouble thinking of alternative interpretations.
  • One action you can take to find out more about what the feedback really means, so you can shift your approach accordingly (hint: that probably means talking to the people who gave the feedback to learn more).

Feedback will always be part of working in a creative industry. Learning how to give and get better feedback will only help you make the work better, build stronger relationships and find more success along the way. Have any great stories on feedback, or feedback on this post? Please share below or on social media!

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