For as long as I can remember, I’ve disliked receiving creative criticism on myself and my designs, even when it was entirely accurate. At first in search of an explanation for this assault on myself or my designs and then for a retort to rationalize whatever actions are in question. I’ve struggled in giving it too — afraid of being too harsh with people. I envy those who can graciously accept constructive criticism.
And I’m not alone. Unfortunately, many of us react with defensiveness and anger against the person giving us feedback. The truth is, we need to get over it because there’s value in creative criticism. How else would we identify weaknesses and areas of improvement? To help us in taking understand and accept this type of feedback, I’ve listed some tips below to help you get through it. Take a look:
Seek opinions early
As creatives we can be pretty delicate when it comes to our work and ideas. Most of us, when we let others in on our latest designs, are hoping to be praise, dubbed a genius and carried off into creative superstardom. The needs for positive reinforcement (especially amongst Millennials) can all-to-often cause us to dive into our devices, polishing and polishing our ideas until we feel ready to unleash them onto the world.
This, however, set us up for a fall. If you’ve spent weeks polishing an idea in secret, you’re in for shock if someone you respect isn’t as impressed as you were expecting. By actively casting out our ideas into the cold light of day, seeking an outside perspective early on can save a lot of time and pain later — especially if you realize you’ve been polishing a turd.
Stop and listen
When the criticism starts, and before you do anything — stop. I know it’s easy to immediately go on the defensive when we open up our ideas to the scrutiny of others, but you need to try not to react at all. You’ll have about a second to stop your reaction, but that’s still ample time for your brain to process a situation. When feedback starts flying at you, there’s a natural creative reaction to put your mind into overdrive with rebuttals that will keep the concept alive. However, by letting your mind think up a response, you’re not really allowing it to listen. And there’s no use in asking for input, if you’re not going to stop and listen.
Don’t take creative criticism personally
This is one of the most important things to understand — and something that I’ve been told myself. Just because someone doesn’t like your idea, doesn’t mean that they’re attacking you personally. You’re not a failure. In fact, the most successful innovators came up with a lot of wrong ideas before they created an award-winner.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas A. Edison
That being said, you should also try to curtail any reaction you’re having to the person who is delivering the feedback. It can be challenging to receive criticism from someone that you don’t fully respect — whether it’s a co-worker, a peer, or a boss. Just remember that accurate and constructive feedback comes even from flawed sources.
Don’t take criticisms as gospel, either
An opinion on your work is just that: an opinion. Take it with a grain of salt. Whilst we should be as open to receiving feedback, we don’t have to take it all as written in stone when it comes to changing your work later. See the input as research rather than an instruction. However, if you’ve received creative criticism from multiple people and they’re all saying similar things, then it’s probably time to rethink your ideas.
Next (and this is the hard part), look the person in the eyes and thank them for sharing their feedback with you. Say to them, “I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about this with me.” Expressing appreciation doesn’t have to mean you’re agreeing with the assessment, but it does show that you’re acknowledging the effort they took to evaluate you and share his or her thoughts.
Deconstruct the feedback
You’ll probably want to get more clarity at this point and share your perspective. The real power of actively seeking feedback is that it gives you a chance to reflect and course-correct before it gets too late. Avoid engaging in a debate – ask questions to get to the root of the actual issues being raised and possible solutions for addressing them.
Once you articulate what you will do going forward, and thank the person again for their feedback, you can close the conversation and move on. The best thing to continually improve your ideas now is to go and get more feedback, and repeat the whole process again.