Whether you’re a freelancer working with clients or a member of a team at a professional organization, you’re likely participating in a lot of collaborative efforts as a creative — and that often includes being on the giving and the receiving end of feedback. And I’m sure you’ve realized that without positive communication, you’ll accomplish nothing.
Workplace culture is different for every business, but the art of giving feedback appropriately can be applied to them all.
How to provide helpful, constructive feedback:
- Start a conversation. Begin with what was done well, and then bring up the areas they could improve. A lot of people like the feedback sandwich method: positive comment, area to improve on, positive comment. The positives are the bread, and the criticisms are the PB&J.
- Channel your inner educator. In providing constructive criticism to an employee, client, colleague, or collaborator, your goal should always be to educate. The whole point of providing feedback is to allow the person to improve the next time they complete a task, isn’t it? Give them the tools they need in order to do that by thinking about the specifics of what they did wrong, and the exact HOW for getting it right the next time. Action items will be your feedback BFF. Educating and informing should be a top priority when delivering feedback. Which brings me to my next point…
- Be specific about the why. It’s just as important to be specific about the how as it is to be clear about the why. Why is this project so important? Why do you care about giving them this feedback? Why do you want them to do better next time? Is it because you value them as an employee and you want to continue to produce great work together? Is it because you adore working with them and you want to make sure you continue moving forward on the same page? Tell them that! This will make them feel more comfortable working with you and more motivated to improve. Highlighting their value will give them the warm-and-fuzzies, and give you the correct-and-productives.
- Use “I” language. This is the ONLY time I will everrr tell you to use “I” language (I’m a copywriter — it goes against everything I stand for). However, when you’re giving feedback, it’s much more helpful to say “I want you to delete this post from the to-do list once you’ve scheduled it” than “you never cross posts off the to-do list after you schedule them.”
- Be respectful of their time. This is important for two reasons. The first: receiving feedback can be freaking awkward. If you have a long, drawn-out conversation with someone, they’ll likely become very uncomfortable and begin to shrink into their get-me-out-of-here shell. These convos can be short and sweet. Hi, feedback sandwich, bye. The second reason timing is important: implementation. If you don’t give them enough time to correct their mistakes or learn the necessary skills to complete the next task correctly and on time, you’re doing both parties a disservice.
How NOT to provide feedback:
- Let your emotions get in the way. Feedback is never about emotions. If you’re truly offering constructive criticism, that has nothing to do with emotions or elements of a person’s character. Emotions make things personal, and professional feedback is NOT personal. Even though you may take your work very seriously, and you may feel personally offended by something, at the end of the day — work is work. I completely understand being frustrated or passionate about a project (hello, I’m a creative entrepreneur; we all feel that way) but letting your emotions get the best of you and responding in an unprofessional, hasty manner is never the way to go.
- Begin with what was done wrong. This will make your feedback feel combative. By beginning the conversation with what was done wrong, you’re not starting off on a strong foot, and you may come across as aggressive and angry.
- Call people insulting names. I’m praying this one is self-explanatory.
- Avoid patronizing, condescending language, and unwanted elements of affection. Basically, don’t be a rude, pompous, gross A-hole. And remember: the only element of physical touch that’s actually safe in a work environment is this a cheesy virtual hug GIF, on a good day.
And speaking of virtual hugs… some of you may feel like you need one after receiving constructive criticism. If you find yourself taking feedback personally — you’re not alone. Read this post to learn more about how to avoid taking feedback personally.