How to Receive Feedback Well: Five Suggestions for Creatives

How to Receive Feedback Well: Five Suggestions for Creatives
Credit: Startup Stock Photos

Creativity and feedback go hand in hand. Unless you want to pull a J. D. Salinger and keep your work locked up in a safe until you die, there’s a good chance people are going to see the things you make. And there’s a good chance they’re going to have an opinion about them. That’s kind of the point, right? We want to make things that get a response — so long as that response is overwhelmingly positive and requires no changes whatsoever. The reality, of course, is that everyone who sees a piece of work thinks they know how to make it better. Everyone from graphic designers to lawyers left the last Star Wars film talking about what they would “do differently”. So how do we find a healthy place for feedback in our creative lives? How do we let feedback make our work better instead of completely dismantling it? 

Here are 5 lessons I’ve learned about receiving feedback while leading the creative team at Musicbed.

1. Feedback Is More About Them Than You

Feedback comes through the lens of whoever is giving it. This is especially true if that person is a client. When they say something isn’t right, they just mean it isn’t right for them. Feedback is a way for you to learn about them, not yourself. Keep in mind that they aren’t making an objective assessment of your work; they’re making a very subjective statement based on their role, their concerns, their perspective, their goals. Don’t let that rock your confidence—use it as an opportunity to gain insight. (On the flip side, of course, you also can’t let their praise boost your ego.)

2. Interesting Work Gets Strong Responses

Does someone hate the thing you made? Don’t worry. That can be a good thing. It can be hard to get any response whatsoever. Most work goes out into the world in silence. Even if it’s not the response you were hoping for, take comfort in the fact that you’re creating work worth getting upset about. That means you’re onto something.

3. Accept the Problems. Consider the Solutions.

People are great at pointing out what’s wrong with your work, but they can be lousy at telling you how to fix it. As author Neil Gaiman puts it: “When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” Feedback can be incredibly useful when it comes to identifying problems, and sometimes incredibly pointless when it comes to finding solutions. Thank people politely for their suggestions. Then figure out the solution(s) on your own.

4. Stay Humble. Anyone Can Have Insight into Your Work.

It’s easy to reject feedback based on the fact that the person giving it doesn’t know what the heck they’re talking about. They’re not as good a designer, manager, musician, or entrepreneur as we are. Maybe they’re not even in our field. But even the greatest athletes need coaches. Pixar had a company meeting where they got feedback from literally everyone in the organization. Point being: Anyone is capable of having brilliant insight into your work if you’re humble enough to listen.

5. Stop Caring About Praise

It’s a tough lesson to learn, but there is a direct correlation between how good praise makes you feel and how bad criticism hurts your feelings. They’re two sides of the same teeter-totter. If you want to take bad feedback in stride, then you have to take good feedback with a grain of salt as well. Let yourself bask in praise for about one minute. Then move on. When you stop letting accolades rule your life and/or career, hatchet jobs won’t sting quite so much either.

No matter how far you get into your career, accepting feedback is hard. It’s hard to be humble. It’s hard to see our own work clearly. Our knee-jerk response to feedback is often frustration and defense rather than empathy and an open mind. Work on your follow-up response: humility, patience, and acceptance that getting outside perspectives about your work is the only way you’re going to grow.

This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.

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