Feedback & Why It’s Hard

I’ve probably covered this a dozen times by now, but this is one of those things that will always be at least a little bit of a struggle. Not just for me. For everyone. Because the truth is feedback is hard, both giving and receiving.

Let’s start on the obvious side: receiving feedback. Quite frankly, why this is hard should be a no-brainer. This is your baby. You’ve put (hopefully) all of your blood, sweat, and tears into this creation and now someone, or several someones, wants to tell you how all of it’s wrong.

Yeah, that’s gonna smart a bit. And sure, saying that someone is going to shred your beautiful, hard work might be a bit of an exaggeration, but that’s probably what it feels like. The important thing is to remember to breathe. At the end of the day, feedback is nothing more than an opinion. You can take it or leave it. Only you know how your story, your art, your creation can be told/made.

But before you decide to toss aside anything that doesn’t immediately validate what you’ve created, take a step back, breathe, and let the feedback marinate. Sleep on it. Give it a chance to sink in. Go ahead and get your feathers ruffled, but wait to dismiss. Come back later and reevaluate. You might be surprised that you agree to an extent.

I won’t lie, this is hard for me, always has been and I doubt any amount of practice will ever make it any easier, but that doesn’t mean I should stop trying. And neither should you. Feedback is how we grow.

Now for the less obvious, yet still difficult skill of giving feedback. For why this is hard, reference above. Now you are the one taking someone’s hard work and pushing it through a shredder. Remember how you feel when people provide you feedback that comes off extraneous or unfounded.

two woman chatting
Photo by mentatdgt on Pexels.com

Key components are to always be as constructive as possible, and considerate always considerate. Keep in mind who you are helping. Do they handle negative criticism well? Do they need examples to understand how something has gone awry? To they want the truth as clinical and unfiltered as you can make it? Everyone is different. Respect that. And don’t be a jerk. It doesn’t make you look smart and professional, it makes you look rude and heartless.

The rule I do my best to follow whether I’m providing feedback or receiving it, is to always make a point to include what is working. While ensuring notes are constructive to grow the project is undoubtedly necessary, it is also incredibly useful to know when something is working well, and even more so if you can say why. This both gives a (likely needed) morale boost and helps to encourage aspects of the craft to be continued to be used. If all you have to say is negative, then the likelihood of the good being thrown out with the bad increases, mostly because the individual receiving the feedback doesn’t know it was too good to lose. I have had this happen to me numerous times.

Finally, while we all would like to give and receive scholastic-level feedback, the truth is sometimes we have no idea why something works or what’s wrong with a sentence/scene. And that’s okay. Be honest, convey what you can, even if it’s barely more than a feeling. Say “I don’t know, but here’s what I’ve got.” Even this looser feedback can ultimately aid in improving the whole. Odds are, the creator had a similar feeling and you may have just pinpointed what they’ve spent hours agonizing over to find. Every little bit helps. 

Pro tip: If you have nothing to say about what you’re critiquing, then you probably shouldn’t be critiquing. Blanket “it was good” can be just as harmful as “I don’t think it works.” Both come across as vapid and insincere. 100% guarantee you, the creator will immediately question if you actually reviewed the material. Don’t be that person. Someone trusted you with their pride, take the responsibility seriously or they won’t next time.

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