Feedback is vital in creative industries. Creativity is subjective; you can’t point to a script, like you would a column of sums and say “it adds up, so it’s right.”
It might add up in your mind, but after that it is strictly subjective.
You are bound to get and give feedback on every type of creative work. I’d like to wish you a lifetime of happy people that give you loads of positive feedback…
Barring that, let’s talk about how to give and receive feedback that is helpful and constructive.
What makes Feedback different from Criticism?
Stick with the facts
Criticism leads with opinion “I think it might be too creative” or “It’s not very well thought through and seems a bit silly.” This isn’t helpful or useful to the person on the receiving end.
Feedback works with the facts, it’s the real stuff versus your perceptions. Feedback is meant to help improve the work or the situation. It needs to be grounded in the things that both of you can observe and should lay out guidelines toward a solution.
Good feedback starts with the positive, we never, ever get tired of hearing good things about ourselves or our work. If you start with the things that you like or think work well, you will get an open reception, making it easier to follow on with the things that maybe aren’t so good.
Keep it real – Try to frame your comments with things that are tangible; “You started with dinosaurs but then switched to frogs and I’m finding that hard to follow” or “Using Hello Kitty makes this feel young and feminine for our weightlifting male audience.”
If you need to give feedback on behaviour, site incidences “we agreed that you would deliver this project last Friday, this is the 3rd time you’ve needed to change the delivery date and its causing problems with our deadlines” This makes it easier for someone to accept than tearing at your shirt while screaming “you are always bloody late and it’s making me crazy” (though that may be what you’re thinking).
Make it a conversation
Feedback is also easier to manage if you make it a two-way discussion. If you are giving feedback in a calm, reasoned voice, it’s easy to accept. It’s a discussion about the work involved. Express your concerns, explain your suggestions for what needs to change or what you had expected to get. Ask what they think and allow them a chance to take you through their rationale or options. As a general rule, offer feedback about the concern or issue, not the solution. Let them work out the best way to solve it.
It’s often personal, generalized and causes an immediate emotional reaction in the person receiving it. When you criticize, people may not say it, but they’re likely to think that you’re talking to them like a child, that you are threatening their job, that they will “get you back” or simply that they no longer care about the relationship and will find it difficult to respect you.
Feedback doesn’t cause those feelings. It’s a balanced conversation, with you giving fact based comments that will help them come to a solution for the issues you’ve highlighted.
Sounds easy huh?
Let’s talk about receiving feedback…
Imagine you’ve put your heart and soul into a project and just want to hear “yes” from your client or your boss or whomever you are trying to get approval from.
They start talking about the project and all you can hear is “more work, more work, more work”. You feel a bit panicked and your brain is screaming at them to stop talking.
Train yourself to smile at them. This may feel foreign but if you force yourself to smile, you communicate that it is their turn to talk, that you are listening and that you want to play nicely.
If they’ve asked for information, try to clarify. Don’t try to defend or justify your work. It makes you look inflexible and might make them dig their heels in about something they don’t feel that strongly about.
Repeat it back
Make sure you understand their point. If you summarize it back, they have a chance to hear it again too “So you think using a wicked witch to sell your apples might have negative connotations.”
Check the facts
Ask for evidence if the comment is vague “when you say you want the logo to work harder, what specifically do you want it to do for this poster?”
Ask for guidance
You want to walk away with the opportunity to solve this new challenge your way, but it’s ok to ask for both direction and support. “If we change the lead visual from a mum to a dad, would you help us defend this shift to the research team?
Be clear on the next steps
This is a negotiation. You want to be clear what has to happen next and the time frame for that work. Use your own feedback skills to make sure that it is workable for both of you.
You’ll work together again
Leave it on a positive note if you can, smile, shake hands, say they’ve really got you thinking or that it was an interesting angle you hadn’t considered. You are in an imaginative, thought driven industry, which means things are subject to interpretation. Try to remember that most days, you’re glad you’re not working on spread sheets.