I have now been working in the creative field for over 8 years. I have worked as a fashion blogger, a contributing writer for publications, a filmmaker, a digital agency owner, a daughter :p ; someone who has to deal with feedback on an hourly basis.
Let me start off by saying, that more important than the art of “giving feedback”, is the art of receiving feedback. It’s an art I had to learn, a habit I had to inculcate slowly because initially every feedback I received, seemed like a slight! A criticism. A disapproval. It’s not surprising though because I was a product of a culture that has OD-ed on the concept of “self-esteem”, and propagated slogans such as “you are perfect, don’t let anyone let you tell you otherwise!”. I realized pretty quickly though that that’s not how the world works. Or should work.
Especially when you work in the creative fields, disagreement is not just good, it’s essential. Taken and given positively, it helps to improve the product and the process both!
So painstakingly, I had to re-write some codes in my brain and get to healthier cognitions, such as
“Disagreement is not the same as dislike”
“Feedback is good; it’s essential!”
“Be grateful for the opportunity to reconsider your work/thought and see if you can improve it!”
That does not mean that I appreciate the tone/manner in which all feedback is shared. I don’t mind it (anymore- but that’s because I understand that more often than not, it’s not rooted in ill-will but an under developed skill).
In my experience of dealing with other people and giving feedback the following rules have come in hand
1.“I don’t like this” is not feedback; leave abstractions for poetry
Only human beings younger than 5 years of age should communicate in terms of like and dislike alone! Especially when dealing artists and creators, you must remember, their creation is an extension of their being and hence, the choice of words is important. I am not saying go out of your way to be untrue in your feedback but I do feel, there is a way of telling someone how they can improve their work without making them feel like crap first. (Disclaimer: the responsibility to control your feelings rests with you; nobody should have enough hold on you to make you feel anything you don’t want to feel, so keep that power when receiving feedback. Understand that their lack of tact is rooted not in ill-will but in an underdeveloped skill).
Ask yourself why? What is wrong with it? Do you want the other person to re-do it all over? Can you pin it to objective reasons? I understand that it might not be possible in every case, but try. Try to get as close to an objective assessment as possible. For the rest, honestly admit to your inability to put a finger on it and see if you can work with the other person in figuring out a solution
2. Have a clear brief in mind (and then make sure it doesn’t just stay in yours)!
More often than not, a creative process is difficult only because we rely on words to express complicated ideas; it is possible that the other person has not fully understood what you have in mind. Accept your fault in not making them understand fully. Share references. Draw it out. Help them (help you) through the process!
3. Respect people and their time
One of the most annoying things is receiving feedback on something days/weeks after it was submitted. Don’t keep the other person waiting beyond the agreed time. Don’t make them revisit something they might have shelved. Some delays will happen; which makes an apology a good place to start!
4. The medium is the message
Sharing feedback on whatsapp when the receiver might have sent an elaborate email or just putting on red marks on a piece of work; might seem a little insensitive on your part. Unless you have a relationship with the person on the other end; that has allowed for frank and convenient communication means, it is best to ask someone how would they want to receive feedback. For example, a personal irritant is voice notes. Like bro; I do not have time to sit through 5 minutes of a monologue.
I have trained myself over the years to answer whatsapp and voice notes at my own convenience and discretion but initially the idea behind the assumption that I shall be available at someone else’s beck n all, was a bother
5. Re-learn some kindergarten rules
Words such as please and thank you are still part of the English dictionary; despite the rapid speed of our cultural devolution and ideas such as “blunt honesty”, some virtues are timeless! To thank someone for their hard work, to add a please to your request, only make the process more joyful, for all parties involved. (Also, please don’t type TU, or PLZ; I still haven’t met anyone who didn’t have time to type 3 extra letters; and I know some pretty busy people!
6. Put more effort in selecting the people you work with and save time on the entire process
Most good creative work comes out of healthy collaborative relationships. Find people whose skill level you trust, you like. Whose work ethic you respect. Who have a similar vision as yours and then leave some things to trust. Trusting their ability to make a call. Step in where you must; but navigating that line between control and collaboration, is also a finer art that can be mastered as you go along.
And honestly, if you cannot remember any of this, remember this:
Give feedback as you would like to receive it!
Check yourself. Speak to others like you would like to be spoken to. If you can inculcate this one principle, it’s an excellent check on itself. (Note: If you are into being spoken to rudely n masochism n all- please ignore this rule! Just focus on being polite!)
ALSO NOTE AGAIN: this article is not there to help you criticize those who give you feedback! It is to help you give better feedback to others. The art of receiving feedback is a slightly different ball game and maybe an article for another time! Here’s a small spoiler though; it requires you to not take it personally!)
The art of giving feedback well applies to us in our personal relationships, in our dealings with our house staff, children, employees and people we collaborate with! It’s a skill worth harnessing!
Maybe one day we can harness it enough where we learn to disagree without conflict. Maybe. Just.
Artwork by Areesha Zainab