In high school I wrote poetry. I also wrote screenplays and plays for the stage. Heading into Temple University to study Film and Media Arts, I dreamed of being a professional screenwriter. During my time in undergraduate, I became interested in photography, and as an extension of that, design and web development. I’ve always enjoyed writing.

Basically, I love to create things but, I’m not a traditional creative.

I don’t make any part of my living creating media on behalf of my clients. Though I do write and create strategies, scripts, and pitch decks for clients, I rarely would be engaged in what a designer might do, how copywriters work, or how a photographer might approach their craft.

Feedback: An Observation

I have worked with creatives for more than a decade. I’ve seen the various ways that they work. I’ve seen the various ways they relate to their craft.

person holding black DSLR camera

I’ve been on the sidelines as clients gave them feedback, I’ve been in the middle being the one to deliver feedback…both good and bad.

In my experience, I have noticed that many creatives receive criticism of their work, as criticism of them. Depending on how the criticism is framed, it can cause a downward spiral of questioning their self worth, feeling the all-too-familiar imposter syndrome, and wondering whether they should even continue doing what they’re doing or just give up.

I’m not exaggerating, this does happen.

People in fields that are not traditionally thought of as creative, often seem confused by this as they indicate that their work is not personal to them. They give off the impression that they are cool and detached from the fruits of their labor.

Here’s the thing, whether or not that’s true, I think we need to fix how we give feedback. Though, for the record, I need to express my serious doubt about anyone’s indifference to criticism of their work.

“I tell it like it is”

Some people like to think of themselves as straight shooters. You’ve met them before: the ones who just “tell it like it is.” The kind of leader whose got things to do, people to see, and mountains to climb, so no time for pleasantries or small talk.

Or, as I like to call them: assholes.

Let me be clear, there’s nothing wrong with honesty. In fact, it’s an essential part of my personal value system. But, this isn’t about honesty, because honesty does not come standard with a particular tone or cadence. In other words, you can be honest and hurtful, or you can be honest and kind.

Some people fall into another category: the ones who just don’t know how to effectively give feedback.

Well folks, today I’m going to give you a real easy win that will improve all of your relationships where you’re expected to give feedback.

The Rules of Improv and Brainstorming Apply

Perhaps you know about this, perhaps you don’t, so I’ll just fill you in. If you were to go to an improv class or watch and improve show, you’ll hear a particular phrase more than once:

“Yes, and…”

In that simple two word formula is something profound: a method of building on a previous idea without invalidating it. You’ll recognize something similar if you’ve ever been to a really good brainstorming session. Someone probably said, “there are no bad ideas here.” The space for an effective brainstorming session, like an effective improv space, must be unquestionably safe.

If you want all of your feedback to go more smoothly and more well received, do the following:

  • validate people and their perspectives
  • build on ideas

Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, non-creatives included, want to be validated. Craving acknowledgement and appreciation is a human characteristic and we lose nothing by feeding it.

If you don’t like something, focus instead on what you do like and what you’d like to see added. Think of giving feedback less like giving out grades, and more like working on a group project.

What’s your role in this whole process?

One final thing worth considering is how you fit into this process. If you are collaborating on a project or giving feedback, what aspect of the task were you not clear enough about?

And here’s the big question: what do you stand to lose by taking ownership and accountability for that piece? Likewise, what do you have to gain by taking ownership and accountability for it?

Let’s say you are working with a vendor on a website project and they ask you a variety of questions about what you want. When the first round comes back as something you weren’t expecting, there are two possibilities: either you weren’t clear enough, or you were and they didn’t pay close enough attention. So, how should you react?

woman in black crew neck shirt

If the first words out of your mouth are “Honestly, I don’t like it,” the only thing you’ve done is invalidate their work and make them feel badly.

If instead, you say “I think I left out some critical details during our discovery phase. This isn’t what I was looking for but I think this is my fault. I’m really sorry about that. If we’re not too far down the road to make some changes, I promise to be more involved and give better feedback about what I’m looking for.”

Think for a moment about how you’d feel on the receiving end of either of those two pieces of feedback.

Your new model of feedback

Let’s all make a better, kinder, safer, and more equitable world, and let’s start with how we talk to each other in all areas of life.

  1. Validate others and refrain from criticizing them or their work.
  2. Instead, build on their ideas and collaborate with them toward the desired end result.
  3. Take accountability for your role in any project.

Good luck out there. I believe in your power to make a difference.

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