3 Pieces of Advice for Receiving Creative Feedback

If you’re struggling to receive feedback and want to get better at it, this article was written for you.

Not all feedback is bad feedback. The purpose of receiving feedback is to help you understand how your work can improve. Feedback also does other things. It helps to keep your projects on track, provides you with opportunities to practice detachment from your work, and is ultimately meant to improve what you love to do: produce creative work that you can be proud of.

Key Takeaways

  • Getting enough sleep, eating a small snack, and reviewing your own work beforehand will improve the likelihood that you’ll be receptive during a feedback meeting.
  • Actively being detached from your work is the best way to overcome your defensive impulse.
  • If you don't agree with feedback, ask precise questions to better understand your editor’s perspective.
  • Your editor's job is to help show you a clear reflection of your work.

1. Preparing for a Feedback Meeting

A feedback meeting is any type of meeting that is scheduled with the intent of talking about work that you’ve submitted for a project. The purpose of these meetings is to address issues with a project, provide direction, affirm what’s going well, and ultimately to help a project come to life.

If you have a feedback meeting on the calendar and it’s approaching quickly, here are a few easy tips that will help you prepare for it:

  • Make sure to get enough sleep the night before a feedback meeting so that you’re well rested and attentive.
  • Eat a small snack 10-15 minutes before your meeting begins to reduce irritability and improve your focus.

Both hunger and a lack of sleep can cause you to be more irritable and less receptive to feedback—the good and the bad alike; it can also help to calm your nerves. 

Another great thing to do is to review your own work before your editor has the opportunity to give you feedback on it. That way, you’ll be able to foresee potential criticisms and prepare for them so that you can avoid becoming defensive.

Ask yourself these questions before your feedback meeting:

  1. What have I done well that I should keep doing?
  2. Are there any standards that I haven’t been meeting?
  3. Is there anything about my work that I can improve?
  4. What about my work process could I improve?

2. Overcoming Your Defensive Impulse

If you've ever created anything, you know the deep connection that creative people have with their work. They care about the work they’ve produced, and they want to own seeing it through to completion. But if you over-identify with your work, it’s easy to feel that any criticism of your work is a direct reflection of who you are as a person.

It is natural to not like when someone points out what's bad or could be improved about your work, just like how people dislike when someone points out your faults.

One way to overcome the defensive attitude that arises from receiving negative feedback is to practice detachment.

“The reason you need to detach is just so you can see something from a different angle.” 

—Jocko Willink, Knowing When and How to Detach From Heated Situations

When you’re over-attached to the work that you’ve created, a defensive attitude can emerge impulsively. Too much attachment to a piece of work during the creative process can hinder any project from becoming the best that it can be. 

Due to the many changes that will undoubtedly be made to it before your work is published, in order to perfect it, over-attachment will counterproductively fight to preserve not only the good parts of a project, but also the parts of a project that clearly need more work. 

Over-attachment will lead to:

  • You shutting down any new opportunities for growth.
  • You prematurely and falsely believing that your work has been perfected.
  • Your work never becoming the best that it could be.

To practice creative detachment, it's crucial to understand that although your work is being critiqued, you are more than the sum of the work that you’ve created

Overcoming your defensive attitude is a practice that should be attended to anytime that you’re receiving feedback about your work and notice that you’re becoming overly attached to it, to ensure that it becomes as good as it can be.

3. What to Do if You Don't Agree with Feedback

"Critiquing is a means to an end, and the endpoint is to get your work to where you want it to be so that you're happy with it."

— Kyle Caraher, Photographer at Mammoth! Brand Studio

Avoid digging your heels in while receiving feedback, and avoid attempting to verbally defend your creative work against any criticism that might threaten it. Work is meant to be criticized, and it is often improved through that process. Instead, pause before responding, and attempt to be as receptive as possible.

If you don’t agree with feedback, explain the reason why you made the decisions now being called into question. The intentions behind all of your decisions are relevant to any feedback meeting.

Along with explaining the technical perspective and reasoning that went into a project, ask precise questions about what has been critiqued in your work. These questions will depend on the context of the project you’re working on, and they can be as simple as:

  1. What was your motivation for wanting to remove that?
  2. Why do you think that needs to be changed?
  3. How do you think the project was improved because of this change? 

This will not always lead to an outcome where an editor is persuaded to keep something that they wanted to omit or change, and it may even cause some frustration—but that isn’t the point.

There are times when editors also make mistakes. In those instances, it's not only important to provide justification for the work you’ve done and to ask why that particular editorial decision was made; it becomes absolutely crucial to the success of the work itself. 

The more that it’s unclear why an editorial decision was made, the more questions should be asked during the feedback process.

The point of asking questions in this case is to:

  1. Understand the decisions of your editor.
  2. Learn what they expected from you.
  3. Integrate what you've learned into your work process.
  4. Grow as a creative individual.

Once the point of the critique has been understood—after the feedback meeting has ended, usually—it's your responsibility and your duty as a creative individual to reflect on the aspects of your work that were worthy of criticism. 

Part of this process is admitting that there are things that you could have done better. This will help you to understand your work, learn something that you didn't know before, integrate what you’ve learned into your creative process, and ultimately help you grow.

Remember that everyone wants to create work they are proud of, especially if they have a team relying on them to produce high quality work. When you don't agree with feedback, it could be because your editor has made a mistake, but it's always more likely that they've seen something that you didn't. Your editor's sole purpose is to help you see your own work more clearly, as if they sat across from you holding a mirror, showing you a clear reflection of your work.

Now that you know how to receive great feedback, read how to give it!

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