Feedback can be a lot like vomiting.
That image comes to me as my days fill with critique, both giving and receiving. I’m helping several people with their artistic works in progress as well as working with responses on my own project.
I had to tell one person that it felt like she had eviscerated my baby. And I had to tell another that she needed a crash course in grammar – pronto.
It’s been rough.
So, I do what I do best. I re-assess, deconstruct, and redefine.
[I just read a wonderful article that looks at the science of criticism. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the touchy, feely, unquantifiable, esoteric stuff. Not why it works, but how it works.]
Many of my teachers, mentors, and guides have shared their opinions that feedback has nothing to do with the one receiving it, and everything to do with the one giving it. I resist this definition, even while feeling the tug to its verity.
There are some people so skilled at giving feedback that it leaves me speechless. To say something that is purely negative in a way that leaves the other person feeling more clear, aware, and motivated is nothing short of magic. And I’ve studied.
When I was training to be a public speaker, I was critiqued on a regular basis and had to do the same with others who were also learning. We used the sandwich method: couching every critique between cookies of compliments. It worked very well.
That level of care and delicacy appears to not exist in the world of writing, which favors slash and burn.
This has forced me into a different mindset about feedback. I acknowledge it’s necessary, as I am constantly reminded when reading work that has not been adequately edited. (I would never want the cringe on my face to appear on that of my readers.)
The question is – how can I use someone else’s opinion (experienced or not) in a way that makes me and my art better?
In case you think the art of critique only relates to artists, please remember the human addiction to comparison and opinion. We are all on both sides of this thing – giving and receiving feedback on a daily basis. It might not be formalized into corrections on a document and might look more like passing comments, reviews at work, or even unrequested opinions about your hair.
Here’s where my process has taken me:
Opinions from others, no matter how grounded in education and experience are still only about them. In other words, the person providing feedback is giving you insight into their world, their position, their perspective.
The Universe speaks to us through the mouths of our fellow beings. Just because it’s someone else’s opinion doesn’t mean it’s not true. Or helpful.
So, once again, I find myself in the center, removing the excessive and extraneous to find the heart of how this activity, neutral in nature, can best serve me so that I can best serve others.
I don’t deny the occasional reminders of my tender little heart, and that of others, when the words get a bit too sharp. My job is to stay open enough to listen.
Your feedback is welcome.