Dealing with feedback: The five-step plan to positively tackle criticism of your work

Feedback is the thing every creative professional dreads. Those brutally honest emails, thoughts or tweets can cause any of us to crumble. But can we turn all this into a positive? Of course, we can. Here's Creative Boom's rock-steady five-step plan to help you tackle criticism positively and constructively.

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Let's get one thing straight. We're all the same regarding feedback: we don't like it. It's never comfortable hearing where we might be going wrong. Our delicate egos can't handle the crushing discovery that what we produce isn't always right.

From freelancers and account managers to the biggest brands launching new ranges to the smallest startups testing out new features on their apps, everyone has to endure honest thoughts from others. Whether that's clients, customers or bosses, it's painful. It strikes the urge to close down, shake our heads and ignore the insight.

Right now, feedback feels especially raw during these uncertain and difficult times. So we thought we'd pull together our thoughts on the subject. We're well-placed, given we've had nearly 15 years of pain and suffering, running various ventures along the way and spending all that time willingly asking for feedback. We've built something of a fightback process. One we'll share with you now, so you'll never consider feedback to be anything but brilliant and welcome.

1. Change your mindset

The purpose of feedback is to improve. That's it. So don't take it personally if your project hasn't received the glorious praise you hoped for. Bottom line: this is how you progress, develop your skills, and learn the art of adaptation. Feedback makes you better, faster, and stronger.

Besides, you alone aren't pulling the strings. Successful projects require collaboration. Multiple brains on the job. You haven't got all the answers, and actually, that's liberating. In which case, see your first iteration of a project as a brave step into the unknown. A chance to offer your clients, customers or boss to take note, step back and provide feedback.

It's a super positive part of the process, so don't take it personally. It's ideal for the long-term success of the project. Remove your ego, step out of your head, and take everything as pointers to improve, not as an attack on your capabilities.

But note that there's sometimes a difference in the feedback you receive, in that it can often be pointless nastiness. Ignore any ridiculous comments. They're not constructive. The truth is, some people are just not very nice. (And their thoughts possibly reveal more about them than they dare realise! Which is always good fun to see.)

2. Take note of anything that sparks that gut feeling

Occasionally, you'll see a comment from someone who tells you exactly what you already know. It might be something you've ignored for a long time. But the gut feeling has grown ever stronger, screaming at you to make a change.

It's in these bits of feedback that brilliance can happen. You might spend an hour or two mulling over their hurtful yet honest thoughts, but actually, you'll soon see the enormous gift they've provided. The answer you've been seeking.

Feedback from just one person that aligns with your thoughts can be the jolt you need to change the project or product. Don't ignore these gut feelings; they are the very moments that could make or break your venture.

Feedback is a positive part of the process, so don't take it personally. Remove your ego, step out of your head, and take everything as pointers to improve, not as an attack on your capabilities.

3. Spend energy on the next steps

Rather than fret over mistakes or mishaps, focus on what happens next. Make every criticism a point to run through with the client or team. What does this feedback tell us? How can we fix it? Where can we move to next?

It's loads of fun tackling all these epic nuggets of wisdom. So lap them up, note them down and take action. Don't act on things immediately. Give these pointers some time to breathe. It's an enjoyable part of the process.

Every year on Creative Boom, we ask our community where we could improve. There are always so many amazing ideas. We digest, take stock, and then implement a few things we knew needed to happen. This leads me to my next point.

4. Remember to be realistic

You're never going to be perfect. This round of feedback doesn't mean the project is done and dusted. Like anything, it's a living thing. It will need to change again. Your clients and customers will change. The world will change. All of this is inevitable. So do what you can.

Create three lists of jobs to respond to the feedback: one that's 'essential', one that's 'next priority' and one that's a 'nice-to-have'. Start with the critical stuff and go from there. My advice is to then get feedback on whatever you do. And repeat. Make, get feedback, improve, repeat. It's when the best work happens.

5. Take a moment to consider the wider picture

Sometimes, work can become all-encompassing. We can drown in the everyday grind. It's why I always recommend taking some timeout. Because feedback isn't only great for making your work successful; it can also open your mind to other ways to improve.

For example, if the user experience of your website is causing a few headaches, but you're relying on others versed in the subject to fix things, could this be the perfect opportunity to learn new skills? Taking this approach helps you to better understand the feedback at play. It also builds your toolkit, making you better able to transform any constructive criticism into positive action. It even makes you a better communicator, able to easily discuss the issues at play.

So next time you get a stinging bit of criticism, stop and pause. Feedback is part of the process. It's healthy. Embrace it, don't take it personally and do what you can to be better prepared next time a client or customer tells you where you're going on. Trust me, you'll be really thankful for their input.


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