Feedback Whether You Want It or Not

We are often too quick to ask for feedback.

We’re equally guilty of giving feedback when it’s not requested (or wanted).

I’ve been guilty of both – especially the latter – and I’ve learned a lot about giving and receiving feedback. I owe much of what I know about feedback to Cynthia Morris, an artist and coach.

Here’s what I’ve learned from her and from others.

When Not to Ask for Feedback

Feedback is serious stuff. You should only ask for it if you’re prepared to hear the answers.

At certain points in the creative process, your project is in a delicate state. You might have a direction and be excited about it or, alternatively, not know what you’re doing.

Proceed with caution when you’re at this point. Asking for feedback too early doesn’t give you time to nurture your baby. The wrong words could put a quick halt to any enthusiasm you had and before you know it, your bubble has burst. Ouch!

How to Ask for Feedback

Above all, ask the right people for feedback. Ask people whom you trust and who have credibility in the area you’re asking about.

You know who to ask.

Be extra cautious about asking for feedback from everyone on your Facebook page or profile.

Not everyone is tactful or nice. Not everyone can refrain. You need to give them a leash, and you need to give others some guidance.

The biggest mistake I see artists make when asking for feedback is throwing out something like the following:

Here’s my new X. Let me know what you think.

Error! Error!

This is setting you up for all kinds of pain because you’re opening yourself up to any and all comments about any and all aspects of your creation.

The result could be feedback that you neither want nor need. Instead, be specific and give parameters to contain the feedback.

I have a new website and I’ve gone a different direction with my About page. I think it’s quirky and clever, but I’d love to know how you react to it.

I just finished this piece. I’m not sure about the red chair in the foreground. Does it work for you?

Can you tell me what you like most about my art? I’m sure there are weaknesses, but I’m doing some research and would love to hear what you think my strengths are.

How to Give Feedback

I am amazed by all of the people who freely give unrequested feedback online to people who don’t know them. Online seems safe because it’s more removed than saying it face-to-face or even on the phone.

Before doling out feedback willy-nilly, ask yourself if it’s your place to do so.

Do they really want your opinion?

If you’ve been asked for feedback, honor the boundaries that the person has provided. Invoke the Oreo® approach: two disks of praise protecting the fluffy center that has room for improvement.

I really like the way you did x and wish I had thought of that. Maybe Y would make it stronger. But you should trust that you’re definitely headed in the right direction.

If you haven’t been asked, maybe send a private message before launching into your comments. Something along the lines of the following:

Did you want feedback on that?

What kind of feedback would you like?

Sometimes we only want positive feedback and support, which has its place in the creative process.

I have a deal with people who support me. In unveiling my most recent project to them, I simply say, “Wanted you to be aware of my new X. At this point, I am not looking for critical feedback. I want you to tell me how wonderful it is.”

This may sound strange, but it’s a way of safely sharing what you make.

How to Respond to Unrequested Feedback

There are three primary ways to respond to feedback you didn’t request.

1. Thank you for sharing your opinion.

There’s something about this response that tells the other person that their opinion is not wanted. I’m only brave enough to pull this one out of my bag of tricks in the most extreme circumstances.

2. That’s interesting. Why do you say that?

This is a great line if you want to engage the other person in dialogue. It asks the person to be responsible for their comments, not in a negative way, but as they should be.

And, you might learn something in the process. For example, you might find out that what you understood wasn’t at all what was intended.

3. Ignore and delete.

Sometimes the only thing we can do is delete an email or move on to the next comment.

This is great for the online world, but it doesn’t help when face-to face. Oh, if it were that easy to delete people! In this case, you should revert to #2 above.

One thing I’d add when deleting a particularly out-of-place comment is to send the other person love and light, and then imagine them receiving your generosity. It will put you in a higher state.

Your Turn

What stories do you have about receiving or giving feedback? What lessons have you learned?

Alyson Stanfield is an artist advocate and business mentor at ArtBizCoach.com. This article was originally published in her Art Biz Insider, which is sent weekly to thousands of artists who are elevating their businesses. Start your subscription now and get Alyson’s six free art-marketing video lessons at artbizcoach.com.

  • Leisa Shannon Corbett

    An old friend my my Army days refers to my artworks as “efforts” on Facebook. The other day he commented that a commissioned portrait was “your best effort yet.” I find these comments disturbing, in part because I’m not a beginner. I’ve been selling my work since 1989 and have earned an MFA degree.