For many people, giving and receiving feedback can be incredibly stressful. When you have poured your heart and soul into your work, having someone offer a critique can feel incredibly personal. It can be tremendously difficult for creatives to separate themselves from what they create, which means that feedback can be especially painful. On the other side of the equation, giving feedback to someone who appears to take it personally may lead you to temper your notes and not provide fully honest input. Unfortunately, resistance to giving and receiving feedback often leads to work that is weaker than it could be. No one individual holds all the answers, and more voices at the table can strengthen ideas.
It is a sign of great maturity and emotional intelligence to accept input and ideas from others. Contrary to what many feel, being open to criticism or suggestion does not signal that you do not understand your craft. Rather, it demonstrates that you understand the value of external input. Likewise, being candid with your input doesn’t make you a villain. Every individual brings a unique perspective and looks at projects through a different lens. This mix of ideas typically strengthens the work in the end.
So how do you become more confident about giving and receiving feedback? And what is the best way to overcome a fear of criticism?
Defensiveness often rests at the center of the feedback problem. Feeling personally connected to your work is not a bad thing. On the contrary, it reflects passion and commitment. Being invested is important — perhaps even critical — to producing excellent work. Rather than quashing that sense of ownership, look at it with a new lens: Your work is strong, but can an outside perspective make it stronger?
When you feel yourself becoming defensive, pause and observe your internal reaction. Ask yourself why you are feeling the way you do and then consider if your reaction reflects reality. For example, when someone offers feedback, your self-preserving initial reaction might be, “This person doesn’t respect me or my expertise.” That is rarely the reality. Separate yourself from the work and consider: Is this person correct? Even if the feedback feels irrelevant, does it offer a perspective that you hadn’t considered that might strengthen the work? When the feedback is vague — a common frustration — ask questions that will drive the conversation forward. Can you shift, “I just don’t like it,” into a conversation about why the product isn’t connecting? Ask questions, explain your rationale and have an open dialogue.
On the flip side, giving feedback is an art. Understanding that an individual may feel a great deal of personal connection is a great place from which to start. Before launching into a critique, remind yourself that the work represents effort and commitment — and that the individual asking for feedback needs concrete insights. Phrases like, “I just don’t like it” or “Something about it seems off,” aren’t helpful. Take the time to drill into your own assessment before sharing it with others. What specifically do you not like, and why? What expertise do you have that might be insightful for strengthening the project? What elements aren’t working, and why do you feel that way? If the feedback is based on your personal preference, such as disliking a specific color, weigh whether that is input that will actually strengthen the project. And always be prepared to share what you do like. Likewise, it never hurts to acknowledge the work that has gotten the piece to this point. If the feedback recipient gets emotional or defensive, suggest rescheduling the critique session for another time.
The free exchange of feedback and ideas can make the difference between a high-performing communication and one that misses the mark. As you seek out feedback, you will slowly gain muscle memory for receiving input in ways that are constructive and productive. Just remember: Your work does not define your value. And a critique is not a critique of your worth as a person or a professional.