Feedback is an everyday part of life. We get it from the person who honks at us on the freeway. We get it from friends and coworkers when they eye our choice of outfit. We get it from our bosses. Feedback is generally not considered a “fun” part of our day, but as writers and artists, feedback is essential to creating something beautiful and amazing. We don’t see ourselves and our work clearly and having others show us what it looks like to the rest of the world is invaluable. And yet it still remains one of the most difficult parts of life to accept.
Sheila Heen wrote a book called Thanks for the Feedback that addresses these exact problems. She explains that there is tension in feedback because it rests at the intersection of two desires. The first is the desire to learn and grow. The second is to be accepted as we are. There is an inherent problem with having both of these desires. They don’t coexist easily. Given that feedback is so frequent, whether solicited or not, it is in our best interest as artists to learn how to gracefully receive feedback, not to mention better for our mental health.
Aside from the tension within feedback, there are often other difficulties as well. Feedback is usually poorly delivered. It is untrue or at least off the mark. It is given by people we don’t know, don’t respect, or just don’t like. With all of these problems, it is very easy to ignore feedback. The key is to look for the small sliver of truth within bad feedback. Ninety percent of it may be crap, but the other 10% may actually be relevant and helpful.
Our natural reaction is to become defensive and fight back because we feel like we’re being attacked. That is obviously not a helpful or healthy response. The best approach is to pause, let it soak in, process, and allow the sting to fade away. After that, you’ll be in a better mindset to think about the feedback and reply in kindness. It’s not easy and takes practice, but it is well worth the effort. Being able to receive feedback, even bad feedback, and then learn from it will make a huge difference in your art, your life, and the way you think.
If you would like more information on receiving feedback take a look at Sheila Heen’s TEDx talk.