Receiving Feedback


There’s as much effort in receiving it as there is in giving it.

But, with a bit of practise it needn’t be heavy weather. It might even help develop thinking.

I used to work for a big organisation where feedback was an integral part of the creative process. This often used to bleed joy from the creative process, resulting in things being created by committee.

Yes, sure everyone’s ideas are valid and welcome (even when the head of department actively seeks out ideas for his or her latest project), but sometimes they’re not always useful.

The feedback we receive is our responsibility to process

A lot of that comes from the way we receive the feedback and how we process it – both in the moment and in the hours, days and weeks afterwards. Adjusting how we process that feedback is key to making it work for us and the thing we’re working on.

I still receive feedback on a near daily basis on the various creative projects I work on. In some respects I depend on that feedback in order to improve my business, create new work opportunities and, of course, to deliver a good product.

One recent project – shooting, scripting and editing a short film – prompted me to capture the feedback process for this post. I’m hoping the points I keep in mind when receiving feedback might help you.

What do you want feedback on?

People need constraints. Give them a blank sheet of paper and they say everything and nothing. Without constraints people will flail around like a bladder on a stick.

Be specific. What do you want them to feedback on? What specifically do you want them to look at or consider? Is it a colour choice? Is it the angle of the piece? Is it as simple as getting them to respond to the emotional impact your work has on them?

You’re in control of the feedback loop. Ask them what you need to know.

Don’t seek validation

I’ve made this mistake a lot. I’ve sat down with someone and unwittingly sought the approval of the person I’m getting feedback from not that the piece of work I’ve completed meets their requirements, but that I am a good person and that I deserve to work here.

That latter thing was my shit to deal with. The former is something they will be able to respond to.

Imagine your work as an object belonging to someone else

You’re going to need your imagination for this one. Imagine something you’ve seen in someone else’s house, flat, or car. It really doesn’t matter what the object is. What’s important is that it’s not an object that belongs to you. The more banal the object the better. Associate the work you’re seeking feedback on with that object.

The point here is to disassociate you from your work.

We all react emotionally first, and rationally second (if you claim you don’t then you’re going against the principles of human evolution by the way – I’m sure you’re very good at what you do, but you are really and truly no different from the rest of us).

If we’re not aware of this then its possible to respond emotionally to the feedback (even internally) we’re receiving. Better then to remove the charge from the feedback process by de-personalising it.

Not everyone will frame their feedback the way you frame yours

We spend our whole lives talking to ourselves. Sometimes we say that stuff out loud (and people stare at us), sometimes we keep it in our head.

That dialogue (its largely negative because as human beings we’re built to seek out the negative) is so familiar to us that it goes unnoticed by us, until such times as someone gives us feedback in a style that it is different from the style we talk to ourselves in.

This can have useful or unhelpful consequences.

So, bear in mind that the style of the feedback (direct, cajoling, awkward, nervous or rude for example) is a direct consequence of the dialogue the person giving the feedback has going on in their head.

Focus on the tangible detail that moves the project forward.

Filter out the emotion (theirs and yours). Seek clarification. Reflect back what you’ve heard to arrive at a consensus. It is your responsibility to manage the consequences of the feedback (theirs and yours).

We seek out what we already believe

(This really goes to the point about settling on an object and transposing the thing you’re seeking feedback about onto it.)

We have an in-built bias to seek out data that confirms what we believe to be true.

This bias doesn’t necessarily help us to hear and then act upon different perspectives.

Seek out the incongruous. Dig deeper. Get the person to tell you more about the things that aren’t aligned with your thinking already.

No one is deliberately being an arsehole

Well. Some are. But they’re arseholes. My reckoning is that you wouldn’t be working with them anyway.

So basically, everyone is approaching the giving of feedback with good intent.

If your feedback is in written form …

Print out the feedback and have someone else read it out loud for you.

Why? Because we read feedback with the tone of voice our internal dialogue documents our thoughts, feelings and emotions. Our internal voice characterises that feedback and in so doing, creates a barrier between you and the useful bits of the feedback.

Have someone else read it out. Stay neutral. Focus on the detail that moves your project forward.

Feedback is opinion not fact

Feedback is someone else’s opinion. It is opinion shaped by their perspective on the world. What you think is obvious isn’t necessarily so for the person you’re seeking feedback from. How you process someone else’s opinion is your responsibility not theirs.

The best feedback is that which triggers further positive thinking.