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Better feedback for a better business

This blog is around the subject of giving and receiving feedback. How do you give the best feedback so you get the best results? How can you take feedback and not make it personal? Who is feedback even important?

What's included in this article?

  • The feedback crisis
  • Good feedback is rare
  • How should you give feedback?
  • Why is feedback desirable?
  • How should you receive feedback?

In a nutshell, we are programmed to be naturally defensive when receiving critical
feedback and the majority of people are not good at giving feedback, which makes the
whole process torturous at times. In the blog below we aim to look into why this is the
case and what you can do to prevent this from happening. As with any new technique
though, giving and receiving proper feedback takes time and you have to practice it.

The feedback crisis.

Have you ever completed a project, be it creative, technical, logistical or physical and received critical feedback from someone who has felt like a punch to the gut.

In the business world, we are always getting feedback on our work, whether personal feedback from individuals or social feedback when our work is on display for the general public. Feedback is either invited or unintended, which you didn’t ask for (my favourite kind of feedback to receive).

The problem we have here is that 90% of people can’t give good ‘critical’ feedback, and 90% can’t receive critical feedback without taking it personally, creating a negative feedback loop.

The inability to give or receive feedback is one of the main areas we all need to work on to improve our businesses and succeed in improving what we deliver to our clients or customers.

Good feedback is rare.

It’s rare to receive good ‘critical’ feedback because most people don’t know how to deliver a critique that doesn’t hurt people’s feelings or hold back from providing critical feedback to avoid hurting people’s feelings.

Unfortunately, when delivering feedback, you usually talk to the person delivering the project, and they can have an emotional attachment to the work created. So when you say, “You’ve made the colours too bold, and the font is too small”, that will naturally create a defensive response. You may create a negative feedback loop that delivers no value to anyone.

We often fail to receive good feedback because few people have the vocabulary to describe what they are thinking precisely. You may have come across people saying, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong, it just doesn’t feel right”. This is very common, but the feedback is useless for effective changes. The feedback isn’t actionable by the person receiving the feedback.

Another reason why good feedback is rare comes down to psychology. As humans, we are naturally very emotional. We often project ourselves and our emotions onto a project and, therefore, our feedback. This can become prescriptive (Dictating what needs to be done), destructive (lots of opinions, no direction and designed to put you down) or arbitrary (knee-jerk, irrational comments that provide no value to making things better).

Lastly, we have the well-known troll feedback. They are designed to put you down because you have achieved something they could never. Pulling you down keeps their reality in check, and if they can’t achieve something, nobody else can.

Feeling defensive "is a natural self-protection mechanism that we have inside us", says Dr Kate Renshall, a clinical psychologist based in Sydney. In the creative industry, finding a designer, videographer or content creator who is 100% confident about their work is rare. So naturally, hearing critical feedback about a project you’re probably not 100% confident about, will spark your defensive mechanism.

How should we give feedback?

 We ALL give feedback, whether in our personal lives or business environment. Usually, we are being asked for input from someone we care about (family/friends), or we have a vested interest in how good their work turns out (paid contracts). So, it makes sense to
provide feedback that creates the absolute best outcome for that person or company and, therefore yourself.

1) Don’t be nice to spare feelings, but don’t be personal or destructive in your feedback.
2) Try to verbalise exactly what you think, feel, or see. Think carefully about explaining what you would like to see done differently.
3) Try to remove bias from previous experiences unrelated to this project.4) Make sure your feedback is in context with the objective or goal.
5) Deliver actionable feedback. Something that can be acted immediately upon and changed.
6) Discuss mandates (Hard and fast rules) and the parameters to work within for complete creativity.
7) Use non-violent language to explain your feedback.

Here is an example of destructive/arbitrary feedback;

“This design is awful; it makes me think of when I was in my grandparents’ house. The colours you’ve used are so dull, and the size of the graphics you have created are far too small and doesn’t make any sense.
A project I worked on last year was similar to this, and it didn’t work at all. I don know why you’ve used that font, and it doesn’t work at all for this project. You
should do the following...” (Leads into a highly prescriptive dialect).

Using the above example, this is how we could deliver the same message differently;

“I’ve had a look over the designs, and for me, the colours don’t seem to portray the message we’re trying to deliver, which is fun, playful and exciting. How do you
think we could change this to deliver our message better?

Also, I was having a little trouble seeing some of the graphics when I viewed this on my phone. How can we improve this for better accessibility for all viewers?

Lastly, I’m not sure the font represents our brand and doesn’t give me the modern feel we are looking for. Do you think we have other options that may suit our brand and message better for this project? Our primary font has to be Brandon
Grotesque, but I’m happy for you to look at other options for the main body of text that creates the feeling we are after.”

In this context, you have removed a personal attack and delivered what you see, with a question on what could be done to change this together.

The main thing we have changed between the two statements is taking away ‘You’ and replacing it with ‘I’ or ‘me. This makes it less personal/attacking and more palatable for the person receiving the feedback.
Always aim to be constructive and helpful, give plenty of actionable points and ask questions rather than dictating answers. There could be an excellent methodology to the process which you may not have understood and requires some explanation.

Why is feedback desirable?

When you’re involved in a project, it’s effortless to become emotionally attached, and you lose objectivity to the project. If you have gone so far with a project, it can often be challenging to hear it was the wrong direction, and you need to start again. Good feedback can prevent this as it will provide second opinions that perceive the project differently, which will help keep the objectivity.Feedback helps create data points and areas for improvement you may miss yourself.

Lastly, with the variety of viewpoints in the world today, getting feedback can help you produce work relevant to the target market and relevant to the highest number of people possible.
Don’t avoid feedback because it may hurt your feelings, go against your current belief system or make you feel you’re not good enough. Embrace the opinions you can get from the broadest range of people possible, but remember the number one critical rule; Not all feedback is equal; not all opinions are valid, and not all comments need to be taken on board.

Use these three steps to take all opinions on board and make the most of them;
1. Observe without judgment the feedback
2. Pull out the key insights and actionable data
3. Identify the actions you can take to improve the project based on required

How should we receive feedback?

The key to receiving feedback is using the method Dr Marshall Rosenberg developed. He created the giraffe and jackal analogy for non-violent communication.

The analogy goes that we can choose to receive feedback as either a giraffe or a jackal. A jackal will listen with jackal ears and communicate with a jackal voice. They take everything as aggressive statements and, in turn, deliver defensive comments back.

A giraffe will listen with giraffe ears and speak with a giraffe voice. Taking perception out of every statement and categorising them instead into two areas, ‘thank you’ or ‘please’ statements. A ‘thank you’ statement is easily identified. It gives you praise for a job well done and appreciates the work you have done. A please statement covers everything else.

You may hear feedback as a jackal like this, “I don’t like the colours or the size of the text you’ve used.”  A giraffe will hear that statement like this;
“Please help me understand why you have chosen that colour and those text sizes for this project.”

Suppose you take all feedback as either ‘Please’ or ‘Thank you’ statements. In that case, you are removing emotion from the feedback and creating an opportunity to explain your reasoning or opportunities to make the project even better. Here are three key objectives when receiving feedback;

1. Give the person grace and be less judgemental. (People aren’t very good at giving feedback, it’s up to you to help them understand and reach a mutually beneficial conclusion).
2. Separate opinion from the data. (Everyone has an opinion, and they aren’t created equally. Get rid of opinion statements and focus on data that allows you to make changes)
3. Adopt a learner mindset. (You don’t and never will know it all. Approach everything as a learner, and you will find nuggets of information that will improve you and the project you’re working on).
4. Never defend your ideas or thoughts when receiving feedback.
(Make notes, remove the emotional jackal, listen like a giraffe and deliver your
thoughts after you have pulled out the key insights from the feedback.
In summary, giving and receiving good feedback is very hard to do due to our natural jackal state.

Train yourself to remove emotion from the process and never take anything to heart. The critique you receive is never of you as a person, but the work you have done and you are
not the work you do.

Give feedback from a perspective of love and desire to produce the best work possible.

Thank you for reading. If you have any questions or would like to talk about this more, feel free to comment on our Instagram or send us a DM on our social media platforms.

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