Monday, September 25, 2017

Getting Feedback is Good, Even When It's Bad Feedback

Feedback can be hard to take, but it’s necessary.  Simplistically, if your project is a total stinker, you need to know that. Of course, someone saying your work is a total stinker doesn’t mean that it is. Different things work for different people.
We all are limited in our perspectives: we know what we think, but we don’t know what other people think.  And when we’re trying to produce something that is intended to communicate with other people (if we’re writing or using other communicative media), what other people think is crucial.

Sometimes I think the feedback I would most like to get is someone saying they liked my work, and also echoing back my message in their own words. If someone says “I think you’re saying X,” and “X” is the message I was hoping to share, that’s a successful piece of writing.

If I have nerved myself up to give something to someone, getting no response can be painful in itself, so I’d rather get something terse. It can be frustrating if someone gives very terse comments—good or bad—because the comments may not give guidance on how to move forward.  But that’s a personal frustration: if someone likes or dislikes your work and doesn’t give you any more information than that, it’s still valuable feedback.
If they like it, you can rest on your laurels. Or you can work on things that you want to work on.  You can try to guess the reasons they liked it.  And you can at least feel good that you got positive feedback.
If someone says they don’t like your work, and nothing more, it doesn’t help you figure out how you can get that person to like a new draft, but it does give you some indication of the strength of the work in someone else’s eyes. It’s no good to have someone worrying overmuch about hurting my feelings. If the feedback I get is a sense that they’re unwilling to say what they really feel, I’m only left to imagine the worst, so I’d rather actually get feedback, even if it is “your work sucks.”

Whether your work is awesome or it stinks, having a sense of what other people think of it can help you decide how to proceed.  I’m trying to get a friend of mine to give me some feedback right now, and I want to assure him that telling me that my work sucks is better than him saying he hasn’t looked at it. Even if all he tells me is: “I gave it two minutes, and it sucked so much I didn’t want to deal with it any more.”

There is toxic feedback, of course: if someone writes that your work proves that you’re an imbecile who is a waste of food, air, and water, that’s not good. But such a personal attack hardly shows the maturity of the source of feedback. For the most part, you can always ignore personal attacks inspired by your work—only if they’re coming from someone on whom you depend (a dissertation advisor, for example), should you do anything more with personal attacks than ignore them (I mean, assuming they’re limited to mean responses to your writing, obviously if someone is slandering/libelling you to many, you might want to take action, but that’s not really in the realm of getting feedback on your work.)

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