Getting feedback on your work
This week I want to talk about feedback. It’s a topic I’ve covered before, in this issue and this one, but today I’d like to get more into the nuts and bolts of feedback—what it takes to get good feedback on your work and how to make the best use of what you hear.
Because honestly? Asking for feedback can be a pain.
Getting feedback on your work means more work
It doesn’t exactly make life easier to ask people to have a look at what you’re doing and tell you what they think.
Sometimes you get loads of feedback you can’t do anything with, and that can sap your motivation for a project. And getting feedback is no guarantee that everyone will be happy with the end result.
And yet. I believe we should ask for feedback early and often in our work process. You’ll soon see why.
Let’s start with the first step—the ask. I learned an awful lot about asking for feedback when I was working on my book GRIP. These are my takeaways:
Ask the right people. Perhaps an obvious point, but it’s key to start with good people. Choose strategically, selecting people who can really help you in this particular case. I enlisted people to read an early version of my manuscript and then later in the editing process, another group had a look. They were a great help in making the book what it is today.
Check your expectations. Going through an entire manuscript is no mean feat. My book was initially around 60,000 words—long enough to keep anyone busy for a while. When you ask folks for help, be upfront about the size of the favor, and ask if they’re willing and able to invest the time needed. I became aware of the importance of this question when someone turned down my request. While they appreciated being asked, they thought they wouldn’t have enough time to do the job justice. I was happy with their honesty.
Know what you want and make a clear request. Talk to your people about what kind of feedback you’re looking for, exactly. Do you want feedback on sentence structure? On the larger storyline, the scope of the project? Or do you want feedback on a particular set of chapters? In some cases, I wasn’t very specific, and I see a clear difference in the feedback I got.
Make it easy for people to give you feedback. You’d like their views on your writing, your software, your video, or your idea. So make sure people don’t encounter any stumbling blocks along the way. Adapt how you present the material, rather than asking them to adjust to a new or complex system. Clear away any obstacles.
Set up a system. Are you gathering feedback from a lot of people? Think ahead about how you want the feedback come in, so you can go through it in a straightforward, step-by-step way. For most people, I made a copy of the manuscript in Google Docs, with my editor’s remarks removed. That way folks aren’t distracted by other people’s input, and I know I can work through everyone’s feedback swiftly and methodically. You can also use software like Typeform when you need a clear overview of everyone’s answers to a set of questions.
Dealing with the feedback that comes in is a skill in itself. Here’s what helps me:
Remember that the feedback is about your work, not about you. Even the most confident among us can feel shaken at times by feedback. And that’s a shame, because avoiding that personal frustration isn’t going to make your creations better. Feedback will.
Errors > Lack of clarity > Additions > Sentence structure. When working through feedback for my book, I used this set of priorities to make the most of my time, addressing errors first. You can make a similar ranking for any kind of work, for instance Bugs > Missing functionality > Design issues for sites and apps.
Give a lack of clarity some extra attention. Are you getting questions about what you’ve made or do you feel the need to explain? See that as a signal that what you’ve written or built could be clearer. You shouldn’t need to add a verbal explanation.
Ask what could be better. It’s not always easy to show your work and open yourself up to feedback. Instead of asking What do you think? (which can elicit generalities and compliments) dare to ask What could be better? That helps steer the feedback-giver to suggest specific improvements. And that’s what you need if you want to take your writing/product/creation to the next level.
In short, getting feedback is almost always a little scary. But the alternative is far more frightening: launching a product or submitting a proposal that no one else has laid eyes on. Not only does feedback ensure a better final product, it sharpens your skills and means you won’t make the same mistakes twice.
And what takes extra time and energy today, gives you more time tomorrow.
Have a good week,
produced by the language girl