I want to talk about giving and receiving feedback today. It is something that writers have to live with on a daily basis and from a variety of sources. We get it from our editors, clients, friends, family, and complete strangers. I also know that whenever the word feedback gets thrown around, we recoil from it as it most likely means that we did something wrong. To make this process a bit easier, we’re going to cover how to graciously accept feedback and when its time to let feedback slide.
What Does Good and Bad Feedback Look Like?
Before we dive into anything in great detail, I did want to go into what good and bad feedback looks like. Why? Well, some feedback we receive isn’t that helpful. Case in point: being told your book is good by a friend to then find out from an editor that there are a bunch of problems that need fixing before it can be published.
What does lousy feedback look like? According to Psychology Today, it looks a little something like this:
- It’s inaccurate or untrue. If you don’t believe it’s true, then why take action to fix it?
- It’s biased due to things like favoritism or politics. This type of feedback doesn’t really stand on its own and comes from a personal agenda.
- It’s insensitive or unduly cruel. The recipient isn’t going to “hear” this type of criticism because they’ll be too upset to process what is being said.
- It’s not specific or actionable. The recipient is told to fix something but is given no steps to help achieve the ultimate goal.
- The feedback comes with orders or ultimatums. The “change this or you’re fired!” method of feedback will raise hackles and breed dissent rather than the willingness to improve.
And all of these types of feedback methods are used everywhere. You can see it on the internet in the comments sections or in your day job, and it’s frustrating on all sides. Before we get into how to handle these types of situations – believe me, they’ll come – we’re going to look at helpful feedback below.
Receiving Feedback Graciously
But, first, we’re going to tackle receiving feedback from others. Let’s face it, we’re all going to have to deal with negative and positive feedback at least once in our lives and how we deal with that feedback can leave a lasting impression. This is especially true in the age of the internet – where everything is recorded, and the things you may have said or done in the past could be called up a moment’s notice.
We need to give a favorable response to the feedback we receive because it can have a lasting impact on our personal branding – and yes, writers have their own brands. If you consistently act against what you’re trying to present as your own brand, then you will get one you don’t want. This can affect your career prospects and deter potential readers from buying your book.
The good news is that there are some tips out there that will help you receive feedback without getting angry. The first thing to keep in mind is to make sure you are open to receiving feedback. If you aren’t, it won’t be a fun process for anyone, and it can stop people from reaching out to give you the help you may need in the future.
With the help of The Balance Careers, here are some things to keep in mind when you’re on the receiving end of some feedback:
- Try to control your defensiveness. It can be daunting for someone to give you feedback if you’re throwing off “do not talk to me about my work” vibes. Try to be approachable about these issues as defensiveness, anger, justifying, and excuse-making can make giving you feedback uncomfortable. Also, your defensiveness shows in your body language and facial expressions.
- Listen to understand.
~ The Balance Careers
- Try to suspend judgment. It’s good to know what others think about you because it gives you continuous growth opportunities and the chance to learn about yourself.
- Summarize and reflect on what you hear. This way, you can assure your feedback provider that you’re actually hearing what they are saying. Focus on making sure that you understand where they are coming from so you can determine the validity of what you are really hearing.
- Ask questions to clarify. I really like this one because it a) shows that you’re listening and b) you want to find a solution. It shows that you’re not just formulating a response. You can ask for examples and stories that reflect what is being said, for example.
- The feedback you receive is not necessarily “right” or widely shared by others. Everyone sees the world differently, which makes it useful to check with other people to determine the reliability of that feedback. Remember, only you have the right and the ability to determine what to do with the feedback you have received. It is up to you to check it out with others, seek out examples, and then decide if the feedback is worth doing something about.
- Don’t forget to show appreciation for the feedback you received – whether you want the feedback or not or whether you think it has value.
- Keep your emotions under control. You don’t want to say anything out of anger. Using stress management techniques may help you keep your emotions in check so you can fully comprehend what’s being said. If that’s not going to work, you can always revisit the discussion at a later date.
Most importantly, writers need to check their egos. Comments on our work are hopefully there to make us better at writing and being an author. We’re not all J.K. Rowlings, Stephen Kings, or George R. R. Martins. Remember that these writers received a lot of feedback before they hit the publishing queue.
BONUS: This is a great Ted Talk that goes over the benefits of receiving feedback and what we do with the feedback:
And I’ve got another one for you with some helpful receiving feedback tips in it:
How to Give Feedback Without Ruffling Too Many Feathers
The flip side of a writer’s ego is imposter syndrome, which is essentially a feeling of inadequacy most creatives have as they become more and more successful. Creatives put a lot of pressure upon themselves to succeed, and when they do, it seems pretty surreal. Success for writers can come in the form of money and glory – but for only a few very lucky people. This can lead to many us feeling like frauds, which, in turn, can make it hard for us to receive feedback on our work.
With all forms of feedback, we want to handle things carefully to find the right balance between achieving an objective and making sure we don’t hurt anyone’s feelings. As outlined above, we have tips to help us receive feedback like a champ, but what if things were reversed? What if we were the ones to be giving the feedback?
How do you give good feedback without ruining someone’s day? We definitely don’t want to stop anyone from writing or being their best selves. Thankfully, there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind when giving good feedback. Good feedback looks a little something like this:
- It’s candid and honest. The feedback that is candid and honest is more credible and provides the person with a chance to up their game.
- It’s specific and actionable. If you know someone with crummy writing – tell them candidly and honestly and then give the recipient tools to help them get better.
- It’s based on more than one incident or example. Hey! You’ve made this same writing mistake multiple times, what gives? Followed by the above bullet point.
- It’s based on more than one person’s point of view. You’ve got a balancing act for this one. More people noticing the same thing gives you, the giver of feedback, more credibility, but you don’t want the recipient to feel like they’re being attacked by several people.
- It’s framed positively and constructively. Instead of saying something mean and harsh, like “you don’t have what it takes to be an English major” (yes a professor literally told me that), say something like “Hey, I see you’re struggling with these things, but I want to help you get better at it by doing the following things…”
- It’s summarized and integrated into key themes. Find the trends of what’s going on and link everything together so the recipient can get a big picture view of the situation so they can place the feedback into that picture.
Now a lot of that is centered around workplace culture. Still, it has applicability in writing situations, especially if you participate in a writing group or are helping a writing friend by beta-reading for them. There are also some more writer-specific tips that you can follow.
The first being to be aware of what type of writer you’re dealing with. Are they egotistical or suffer from imposter syndrome? Not sure what category they fall into? Look to their personality and prepare their feedback with them specifically in mind and make sure that you acknowledge what they’ve done right along with what they did wrong.
The second thing that you should do is read their writing carefully – and not just once. You want to recognize that you’re handling someone else’s “baby” and that you’re not going to just toss it out the window with no care. So, don’t skim, read deeply, and take notes. If you can’t do that, then don’t say you’ll give feedback.
Thirdly, it’s about the quality and not the quantity of feedback. Most of the stuff you’ll be looking at is going to be works-in-progress. Make sure that the feedback that your giving leads the writer to significant issues with their plot, character development, etc. and not just nitpicky details, like comma splices and missing periods. You’re also going to want to share your tips and tricks to help them out.
Finally, forget the compliment sandwich. Don’t layer all of the bad things with compliments on either side. It’s still demeaning and disheartening. Either start off with the bad or the good. Don’t use the good as a balm for the bad. Remember to be honest and to not bash the writer.
And as a bonus, feel free to check in with the writer after you give your critique to make sure they’re doing ok. I’ve personally done this with other writers in university when they were given a particularly harsh review in our writing group. I’ve also been subjected to some harsh reviews. It’s nice to know that my critiquers care about my well-being.
That’s it for me today! As you’ve noticed, I’m taking a bit more of an in-depth look at the business side of writing rather than the mechanics of it. Next week, we’ll take a look at the different ways we can combat imposter syndrome.
Until next time!