If you’re looking to accomplish anything — grow in your career, publish a novel, become a renowned artist, etc. — feedback is an important part of your growth trajectory. But feedback can be tough for some people to take.
I’ve been thinking about the importance of feedback a lot lately, especially as I’ve been revising my novel. At first, I was so afraid to let other people see my creative work — afraid they’d find something wrong with it. But getting feedback is the quickest way to a better novel.
Here’s some advice I have on how to approach getting feedback, relevant both to the workplace and to side projects or skills you want to improve upon.
1. Ask for feedback to improve your skills.
Without getting feedback, it’s easy to get in a rut and do your job the same way day in and day out. Your skills may improve as you practice, read blogs on new strategies, etc. But the fastest way to grow is to get direct feedback about your own performance. None of the blog articles out there are specifically catered to YOU, unlike feedback that is specifically about YOU.
If you’re not already getting feedback from your boss, or from anyone else for your creative work, ask for it. Ask your boss, “What can I do better?” Ask your roommate, “Does this chapter have any boring moments?”
2. Get feedback early and often.
As I revise my novel, I’ve been handing my husband each chapter as I finish it. He had a ton of feedback about the first chapter — so much so that I almost got discouraged. Then I spent each night for a week working on just the first chapter. Some of his feedback spurred plot ideas that made the first chapter so much stronger. I also had him point out each sentence that wasn’t strong, so I quickly learned to cut out the “he said, she said” bits and extraneous adverbs.
With each chapter, he has less and less feedback. Because of his feedback, I’m becoming a stronger writer, so as I progress through the novel, I need less feedback. If I had waited until I’d finished my first revision to hand the novel over to him, I would have had to do a second revision all the way through that accomplished what I’m now doing from the beginning. So get feedback early and often.
3. Don’t be resistant to feedback, even the harsh stuff.
I once sent an email to someone asking why a project was completed a certain way. I hadn’t even brought up the feedback yet — I wanted this person to reach the conclusion by herself that it hadn’t gone the right way, and then I was going to provide feedback. Instead, the person replied with a long, defensive email, knowing what direction I was going to go. I ended up not providing the feedback, so this person didn’t learn anything.
If you get defensive when you receive feedback, you won’t be able to learn and refine your skills. Additionally, the people around you won’t want to provide you with feedback if they’re afraid that you’ll snap at them, or if they’re afraid you’ll badmouth them to your colleagues.
When my husband reviewed my first chapter, my first reaction to a character critique was “REALLY? But… REALLY?” (in a high-pitched defensive squeal). Then I realized, “No, wait, he’s trying to help me. I should hear this.” When I incorporated his feedback, my secondary character suddenly had much more dimension. But if I’d kept it up with the “REALLY?” business, he wouldn’t want to help me.
If you don’t like the feedback you’ve received, tell the person, “I need a night to sleep on this and collect my thoughts; let’s reconvene tomorrow to dig into this project.” Or if the feedback was given over email, walk away from your computer and don’t hit reply right away.
4. Know the difference between feedback and a power trip.
I once had a manager who criticized me for checking my watch during a meeting (I had another meeting afterward) and for getting a one-hour Photoshop training session from a designer (I was working on some mockups and wanted to create them more efficiently).
Instead of handling this situation correctly, my jaw dropped to the floor. I think I actually said, “Are you serious?” to the watch comment. Now, years of experience later, I would have known that this wasn’t feedback I should take personally. This was a power trip. I should have asked questions like, “How would you recommend that I am on-time to all of my meetings?” and “What other ways would you suggest improving at Photoshop so I can complete these mockups faster?”
5. Don’t take constructive feedback so personally.
If you tend to take things personally, try looking at things from a project-by-project perspective. Usually, if a colleague is giving you feedback, it’s because they have a vested interest in the project or result. They’re not “attacking” you personally; they’re offering suggestions on how to improve the finished product.
Or, just grow thicker skin. 😉
Learning to accept feedback is a skill itself that you can refine over time, and will make you a stronger person. It’s definitely made me stronger, and I know I can get even better about collecting feedback and refining my own skills.