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9 Tips for Giving Creative Feedback
If you'd like to provide great feedback to a friend or colleague, consider the following tips:
- Start with something positive. Whether you loved someone's work or hated it, always begin your creative feedback on a high note. This puts the other person in a receptive frame of mind. Starting performance reviews or feedback sessions with positive language makes the other person more open to whatever you say next, whether that's positive feedback or negative feedback.
- Always be honest. If you truly want to provide productive feedback to a friend or colleague, tell them the truth. If you think they've done great work, say so. But if you think they need to make corrections, that's okay to say, too. Try the sandwich method of giving feedback: Give negative criticism in between two positive comments—but make sure your praise is genuine. Insincerely telling someone they've done great work won’t actually help them. Be gentle, but always tell the truth.
- Keep your personal tastes to yourself. Not all creative work resonates with all people. Just because something doesn't align with your personal preferences doesn't mean it's necessarily flawed. Let's say you work at an ad agency and some of your creative team members find a particular commercial spot funny, yet you do not. This doesn't mean that the joke is bad; it may simply mean that you aren't the target audience for the joke. However, if you can articulate the reason why the joke isn't landing, it might be beneficial to share your reasoning with the team.
- Be specific. Broad feedback won't help a creative person push toward a final product. However, you can take broad criticism and turn it into better feedback by giving specific examples. If you’re giving notes on a screenplay, instead of saying something like "the pace is too slow," you can instead focus on the details that make the story progress slowly. Is the dialogue redundant? Are there certain scenes that go nowhere? Specific notes can propel creative projects forward, while general criticism can turn a feedback session into a waste of time.
- Diagnose problems, but only prescribe solutions if you're asked. You can easily overwhelm a creative person by listing out your own ideas for changes. Instead of telling someone to make a prescribed change, explain to them what isn't working about the existing product. To make a creative partner receptive to your ideas, you must walk them through your critique without offering solutions right away. Explain what tripped you up, and then see if that resonates with them. If you do this, they may ask you for suggestions to address the problem. Or, their mind may start racing, and they'll come up with a solution that feels organic to their process.
- Visualize yourself on the receiving end of your critique. Before you offer criticism, consider how you’d feel if the roles were reversed. People don't respond well to being shamed or backed into a corner, so present your feedback as creative ideas for the other person to chew on. Effective feedback never prods someone into defensiveness. Use affirmative body language and a neutral tone of voice to give the kind of feedback that can actually help a friend or coworker.
- Talk through your criticisms in person, then follow up in writing. People are most receptive when they're talked through feedback at a conversational pace. If you send a list of critical bullet points with minimal context, you're unlikely to make your point effectively. Take the time to talk through your notes—either face-to-face or on the phone. When the conversation is over, follow up with a list of your specific feedback notes, which will help the other person recall the specific suggestions you discussed.
- Don't feel compelled to make changes. You can easily damage trust with a creative partner if you continually insist on making changes to their work, regardless of its quality. Sometimes you'll receive a draft that is already in great shape. If that's the case, tell that to the other person. It may be that a particular piece of creative output really doesn't need much tweaking at all.
- Respect the vision of the artist. If you're critiquing someone else's project, remember that the project will probably live or die based on that person's investment and creative energy. As such, you need to respect their instincts. After providing critique, accept the fact that not every note will be accepted. Sometimes you have to trust another person's creative vision.
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