By Drew Beamer
We’ve all been there—we’re on a deadline and just don’t have time to argue about changes, or we get a little defensive when someone doesn’t like our work, or just take a loss because we don’t want to deal with hurting someone’s feelings. Whether creating, managing, approving, or presenting, the ability to give and receive feedback can make or break a project.
The most common form of feedback we get (and often give ourselves) is the 2-3 word response. “Love it”; “hate it”; “don’t get it”; “mmmmm...”. Look, the work on the board either does the job or it doesn’t—and it’s ok to say so! But how you say it is important. A 3-word response is pretty useless unless it’s backed up with the why.
So, based on our own successes and failures with feedback, we have a few concepts to keep in mind when heading into your next critique or group discussion about a project:
1. Have an opinion and a reason for it.
If you can’t tell someone to their face why something is good or bad, pump the brakes for a second and make sure you’re speaking from a place of knowledge and alignment with the end goal of the project. An “I like it!” without the why is a good stroke to the ego, but an “I like it” coupled with an explanation of why you like it leads to better understanding of the project and sets everyone up for success as it moves forward. Same goes for the “I don’t like it” feedback. There’s a reason it’s called constructive criticism; it’s meant to build things up, push them along, and make them better. If your feedback doesn’t accomplish that, take some time to evaluate it and articulate the why.
2. Acknowledge the ego.
Large or small, concealed or overt, we all have our egos and sometimes they actually do need a little TLC. It’s just as important to give praise when it’s due as it is to give criticism when the mark is missed. The quickest way to create burnout on a team is to establish an environment that only acknowledges a need for improvement and fails to celebrate successes.
3. Train your feedback muscle.
We have to be ready to both give and receive any and all kinds of feedback. If you only give or receive praise, you’re not going to know how to react when the mark is missed or a project falls short and requires direct and honest criticism. Talk early and often about the goals so you can avoid missteps along the way. Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” The idea here is to know that the punch is coming and be prepared with the counter move.
Of course, the only way to train this muscle is to actually go through the process. Create a culture of open communication and constructive feedback. Find ways to remove fear from the feedback process. Doing the work is only part of the process. You have to make discussing the work a priority as well.
Ultimately, everyone on the team is responsible for the work, so part of your job is learning what makes them tick. Get to know your team and yourself in a way that accounts for the humanity in all of us. Learn to understand not just how everyone responds to feedback, but why. Some people have thicker skin while others need a more gentle approach. Neither is right or wrong, better or worse. They’re just different.