Getting Feedback

This week, we're thinking about asking for feedback in ways that makes sure what you get is valuable. Thanks to Sean Massa for helping us with this post.

In a perfect world, everyone you talk to would be experienced in offering effective, constructive feedback in a positive manner. However, as much as we wish this was the case, you simply can't rely on it. So, what to do when you need to ask for feedback? Here are some ideas.

Preparing Yourself

Getting feedback on anything, no matter how important, is scary. Before you even ask for that feedback, there are a few things you can do to prepare yourself.

  1. Remember that you don't have to change anything. No matter what your critic says, it's only one person's opinion. Just because they don't like what you've done doesn't make it wrong. There's very rarely a truly right thing—you are perfectly entitled to stick to your original vision.
  2. Know that you might have negative emotions. It's entirely normal to feel bad when someone criticizes your work, even when no malice or personal criticism is intended. If you're prepared for that to happen, you can hopefully avoid letting it put you on the defensive.
  3. Be comfortable setting boundaries. You might run into someone who's aggressive, condescending, rude, or any number of other kinds of inappropriate when giving you feedback. You can always decide you no longer want their feedback and tell them so.

Asking for Feedback

How you ask for feedback can go a long way to ensuring you get what you need.

  1. Be specific about what needs feedback. Without guidelines, people will tend to critique every single thing they can. When you ask, make it clear what you need to hear about. For example, design work rarely needs to have its text reviewed, and a presentation outline's spelling really isn't relevant to the structure. If you'd like, you can even make a form outlining exactly on what and how you'd like to receive feedback.
  2. Explain your goals. When you give someone something to look at, explain the goal and target audience of the piece. Feedback appropriate for a nursing home newsletter would be rather out of place in a political advertisement aimed at young people, for example.
  3. Let them know when you need it, but give them time. You don't want to end up in limbo, waiting for feedback that may never come. Let your critic know when you need to hear back. However, make sure that you give them enough time to be thorough; rushed critique is bad critique.

Responding to Criticism

Once you've received feedback, you'll want to be sure that you've understood it and can make use of it. (Remember, you don't have to take feedback and are always allowed to set boundaries with a critic.)

  1. Ask questions. Make sure you really understand the critique you're receiving. A great trick is to paraphrase the critique back, something like "So, I'm hearing that you..." If your critic agrees, then you've got it, if not, repeat the process until it makes sense.
  2. Offer explanations. If you think that a criticism is off the mark, explain why you made the decision. If that changes the critic's mind, ask how it could be more clear.
  3. Propose some changes. Once you've got a handle on the feedback, you might have some ideas on how to make changes. If the critic is amenable, see what they think of the ideas.
  4. Say thanks. Regardless of the quality of the critique, giving feedback is hard work. Assuming your critic wasn't intentionally malicious, say thanks. It's just polite.

We hope that this post will help you get the best feedback you can. In the end, the onus is still on your critic to offer good, positive feedback, but there's no harm in giving them a hand along the way. If you really want, you could even send them to our post on giving feedback!