Three positive and reliable ways to give feedback like an artist
No one likes to be criticized. When someone expresses a negative opinion of you, your work or your ideas, how do you feel? Not great, I'd imagine. You may get a flood of emotions, become defensive and resentful, and you may even shut down. End of conversation, right?
Worst of all, you may lose trust in those doing the criticizing if you feel it's unwarranted or mean-spirited. Trust is foundational to any collaboration, in a work-for-hire situation, a team effort, or in any dual-person engagement, so if trust is disrupted, the relationship can teeter toward being outright broken if not caught and salvaged. One sure way to erode trust is to give feedback in a ham-fisted manner.
That said, it's also important to give and receive constructive criticism in order to improve on an idea, meet expectations or innovate, and most of us thrive when given useful feedback. It's so important to communicate what is needed when working with others: you need to agree upon the motivation and goals, the desired outcomes, and aesthetic preferences, if any, can’t be assumed.
So how do you navigate the fine line between constructive criticism, and plain old criticism? One idea is to borrow some techniques creative people learned in art school: the art of the critique. Critiques are not the sole property of creatives. On the contrary, they should be leveraged by all of us, regardless of training, inclination or "talent."
The intent of a critique is to explore ideas, describe an experience from differing points of view, and help the creator to better communicate their intention or meaning on any given project, in a given medium. Motivation of commentary is vitally important, and so is delivery. You want to communicate what’s right about the project, what’s working or where there’s exciting potential. This mindset needs to be at the forefront for the exchange of ideas to be effective.
Critique differs from criticism, wherein the motivation can be much more suspect. Do a gut-check and ask yourself: What's your motive for giving feedback? Is it to be right or show off your smarts? To put someone in their place? To make a point? Or maybe your motivation is indeed to help them improve, to collaborate or clarify. If it's the latter, your intention may not carry the message properly if what you say is interpreted as pure criticism.
Tactics matter in how feedback is given. It's not always the message itself that leads to defensiveness and resentment, sometimes it's all in the delivery.
Here are three reliable critique tactics to help you create an environment more conducive to a positive outcome:
Then ask yourself: did you avoid outright criticism and do a proper critique? The results should speak for themselves.
The ideas above should go a long way to prime the conversation in an emotionally intelligent way, but there is more you can do to promote a positive conversation. Some final tips:
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Remember to choose your location wisely. Some critiques make sense in a public space, especially if there is a team effort involved where multiple people need to take part. However, some feedback is best saved for a more private, one-on-one conversation. The private critique may be reserved for particularly difficult news, or when collaborating with someone known to react strongly if they feel publicly cornered. Pick your location wisely.
If you're the person receiving feedback, try to remove yourself from the equation and empathize with the perspective of the one giving the feedback. What is motivating them, who are they speaking for, what obstacles are they up against (including time or money), and how do your goals align? What’s working that you can focus on, and where can you find common ground to build upon?
If you're the one giving feedback, understand the creator may attach some (or a LOT) of their self worth to their product or output as a piece of themselves. When their work is criticized, they feel criticized. Recognizing your opinion can lift them up or drag them down, do another gut-check on your motivations and empathize with their mindset. Consider your best approach to elicit the best response, buy-in and results, and stick to the facts.
If both parties are able to keep an open mind and grant that the other person has some value to share - even if it’s just a little bit - common ground can be shared and progress can be made.
Goldfinch Leadership's philosophy is based on the premise that every person is creative, and that by leveraging creative tactics one can tap into powerful and effective methods for growing their leadership capacities and executive presence. In other words: become more effective in work and life.