Can I Get Your Feedback? (Ouch!)

brand marketing without feeling like your soul is out there for criticismI was about to vomit, I was sure of it. And that was going to be really embarrassing. Here I was, attending my first formal critique. It was my freshman year of art school, and I was in my Visual Communications I class.

To make matters worse, our assignment that first week was to make our own names into artwork. So it was me pinned up on the wall there, there was no denying it. My soul, my self worth and my name were on a piece of paper pinned on a board with 25 others.

My stomach churned. What would they say? How was I going to survive four years of sitting through these critiques? And what was the point, anyway?

Four Thumbtacks Through my Soul

The waves of nausea first hit me as I tacked the corners of my piece to the wall. Well, this was embarrassing, I thought. I was used to working on my art in the privacy of my room, and to have it on display in a room full of fellow artists was disconcerting. Some of them were blessed with a lot more natural talent than I was, and that made me uncomfortable.

Critique Time Looms

We perched on our stools, and the professor began speaking. He went down the line, piece by piece, and asked for feedback from the group. People spoke about what worked and what didn’t for each creation on the wall.

In the end it wasn’t that bad. Sitting there, I realized that both the naturally talented students and the beginners all wanted the same thing. We wanted to improve our work. That’s why we were there.

I made it through that first critique. My piece was one of the few the professor actually liked, but it wasn’t always so easy. In the three years that followed, there were many uncomfortable public critique sessions. But I learned, I pushed myself, and something happened.

Something Shifted

Over time, I realized something important about the critique process. The lesson has stayed with me throughout my career as a small business owner, and it’s part of who I am today.

It’s Not You Pinned Up There

I realized it wasn’t me pinned up on that board. It was just something I’d made. The reason for the critique sessions was to improve the quality of what we made, and nothing more. The critiques weren’t comments about us as people.

The secret to improving your ideas is to get them out there and ask for feedback. It is one of the most courageous things you can do. Don’t hide your ideas away and hope they’re good. Find out.

Create your Own Critiques

It’s not difficult to find ways to put your business ideas in front of people who can give you feedback. Join a Mastermind group (and follow that link if you’re not sure what they are). Take advantage of forums you belong to and get your questions answered. Put together an informal Board of Directors for your business and feed them a meal every few months in exchange for their feedback.

The payoff for your willingness to expose your ideas to a critique will be stronger products, tighter writing or better design.

Feedback Doesn’t Have to Hurt

Before you ask for feedback, though, remember that what you do isn’t who you are. Before you share your ideas, disconnect from them. Your ideas aren’t you, and they aren’t your baby. Your work isn’t related to you in any way. It’s just something you do. And if the feedback is especially helpful, tomorrow you’ll do something else, and you’ll do it better than ever before.

How about you? Do you enjoy receiving feedback about your work, or do you find it painful? Do you have any advice about giving or receiving feedback? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Comments

  1. says

    Toastmasters International teaches each member about how to give constructive feedback to budding public speakers. Here’s a couple of tips I use all the time when asked for feedback.

    1. Don’t try to point out every error. Focus on one or two things you think are not obvious to the speaker and may be the most helpful. Most people know some of the things they did wrong. Your job is to find the one thing they aren’t aware of that will give them the best insight about how to improve.

    2. Put the criticism in a sandwich. That is, first tell them something you liked about the work, next give them a point they can improve on, then finish up with something else they did well. This softens the delivery.

    Peace,

    Rob:-]

    • says

      I use the “sandwich” technique often. I like your advice to look for things people may not be aware of and point them out. That can be used for both positive and negative feedback. Good idea!

  2. says

    “Would you have a few minutes to look at my photos?” As a photography instructor, critiquing is the thing most requested of me! A corporate photography client of mine even asked me once, and well I was scared to give him a crit, in case he didn’t like what I said, and never hired me to shoot for his company again!

    As hard as it is to receive critiques, I must say that giving them is harder, especially to beginners. They ARE their work. It’s hard for them to detach. I try to add constructive criticism without crushing someone’s spirit. Talk about non-emotional things like composition and light.

    I find many people don’t honestly critique work and then really, what good does it do? Maybe I’m hardened by client critiques. If they don’t like your work, they won’t hire you again! That’s the hardest critique of all.

    As you pointed out Pamela, get and give critiques in a safe environment, like your class or peer group.

    • says

      That’s an important point: I wonder if those receiving the feedback realize how difficult it is for those giving the feedback? And amen to the safe environment. Having a safe place to air the ideas you haven’t completely detached from is really valuable.

  3. says

    Ooh – great post! I remember a writing professor I had in college who changed how I looked at critiques. She said, “I love this piece, and I totally get it. I just want as many people as possible to get it, too.” That was a revelation!

    It’s so important to realize our creations are not “us” – just something we made. Easy to understand, hard to practice.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  4. says

    Great post (as usual)!

    It feels better knowing I’m not the only one who tries not to take constructive criticism personally. Lots of great advice that I plan on using. Thanks, Pamela.

  5. Mike Korner says

    I ask for feedback because it is a necessary part of doing awesome things. Mostly, I appreciate feedback because I know the end result will be better because of it. It’s that “two-heads are better than one” thing.

    As for giving feedback, I always try to remember a couple of things:
    1) Focus on clarity. Is the message clear, consistent, complete, accurate, and easy to understand? If not, what can you suggest that will add clarity?
    2) Explain the feedback to the degree possible/feasible so that the person understands the rationale. Sometimes you will raise an issue or angle they never thought of. Sometimes they may have a specific reason for doing what they did. Ultimately, they have to choose to use or ignore your feedback but sharing the rationale allows them to make an informed decision. It’s kind of like when the president seeks opinions from his cabinent members but he still has to make the final decision.

    • says

      Spoken like a master, Mike (I happen to know your feedback is thorough and very helpful!).

      Amy, I think our first reaction is to take these things personally, but it’s a lot easier to handle if we can disconnect from it first.

  6. Stephanie says

    Great post and great comments. It’s natural to take feedback personally because we all want to be accepted in one way or another.
    If we can remember not to take it personally and see it as an opportunity to take ourselves from where we are to even better then feedback can be exciting. It offers us new possibilities and a new way to look at our own work and optimize our potential. AND everyone is entitled to their opinion. What works for some doesn’t work for others.
    Thanks Pamela for the value you share.

  7. says

    I was color consulting on a new job and had gone ahead a put rather large samples of paint color on the wall (2 colors actually) I thought it looked pretty great, but the real estate guy said ‘those colors are too personal’.
    Of course, I love those colors, but the agent is trying to sell the condo, and the colors WERE to personal. click…

  8. says

    G’Day Pamela,
    Good post; Big issue. Two comments.

    First, when someone asks for ‘advice,’ try to find out if that’s what they want. Often people seek ‘advice’ when what they really want is confirmation and agreement with an opinion they already hold or a decision they’ve already made.

    Years and years ago I attended a course on staff motivation. I still remember one thing called ‘constructive criticism.’ In a nutshell, the idea is that you say something positive before launching into critique. Few things are absolute disasters. There’s usually something positive if you look hard enough. Not only does it maintain at least a little self esteem. It also means that the person whose work is being critiqued maintains those parts of it that are worth retaining. Babies don’t get thrown out with bathwater…. or something. And, of course,

    make sure you have fun

    Regards

    Leon

  9. Dorothy Ray says

    Funny. Sure took me back a few years…quite a few. Now, of course, a critique isn’t any good to me if the critiquer doesn’t point out something I could do better. Whether it’s painting or writing, an artist can’t get better is she has a thin skin.

    • says

      Dorothy,

      Whether you want to improve your painting, writing, or your business ideas, a thick skin and an open mind to the feedback you get will improve the final product, right?

  10. Frank says

    Critique comes from a variety of sources. The “angst” factor depends on who is giving the feedback. I have no regard for what someone thinks who is a stranger to me. If you are in a position of trust, your input can lift and improve or be devastating.
    I think that you must be the one to ask for feedback. Unsolicited feedback is harmful, particularly regarding criticism. An individual comes to the point where they realize that the criticism they need comes from unbiased and qualified individuals. Teachers are perfect for this, and respected co-workers. The approach is critical too. There have been some great suggestions in this string so far, and as my contribution I want to include some quotes….

    “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.”
    Benjamin Spock

    “Correction does much, but encouragement does more.”
    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    “A word of encouragement during a failure is worth more than an hour of praise after success”

    “It is so easy to lift up another. Often it involves doing something that we already want to do, be a help to those we care about.”

    (no author on those last two, sorry) Knowing how to criticise should be taught, because most of us are poor at it.

  11. Frank says

    I wanted to include a second post here of a powerpoint slide I did some while ago at my previous job. It’s been edited for relevance to this discusssion. It has some of my thoughts on feedback.
    Why is feedback valuable?
    • It removes our “subjective perspective” defined by our “belief window”
    • It gives us insight into ourselves
    • It highlights our true priorities, and clarifies the “giver’s” perspective
    • Self concept comes from our own observations and what we think others think of us
    Getting Feedback
    • When we seek feedback it has more significant meaning to us personally
    • When it is solicited from others it removes at least some of our natural defensiveness
    • It is easier to change our behavior than to change our self-concept
    • We must sincerely want it
    • Getting good feedback takes deliberate effort
    o People have been trained in society to withhold feedback, It generally comes out reluctantly, and only when people are certain that the asker sincerely wants it.
    Giving feedback
    • Feedback can be given verbally, in written form, or by body language
    • Again, the receiver will only value feedback if they are honestly seeking it.
    • The giver will be well received if the giver has demonstrated that they are genuinely interested in the welfare of the receiver
    • It must be given in an environment of trust
    • It must be specific to be well received
    • It should not sound practiced.
    Giving feedback (Cont’d)
    • The person must be able to do something about your feedback
    • Avoid labeling/value judgements
    • Give it in portions a person can absorb
    • You must have an understanding of the recipient
    • It is difficult to give feedback unless we are an example
    Recording feedback
    • Feedback is useful if it is recorded and referenced at a later time
    • Specific plans can be made using feedback as a basis
    • Using memory is not effective because you typically remember how you “felt” rather than what was said.
    • Record feedback in a neutral manner
    A last word…
    “To improve our behavior, we need accurate information. If we are to have any understanding of ourselves as leaders, as spouses, as parents, or as fellow human beings, we must know how our behavior affects others. That is the only way to know ourselves better and to improve ourselves”