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This article is part two in Cynthia’s series on making feedback a positive and empowering part of the creative process, following on from How to Ask for Feedback (without it Blowing up in Your Face).
“You’re not always funny. Sometimes you go on and on and on and I just fast forward.”
This was only some of the feedback I received from a close friend. The rest of her comments about my web TV show felt like a physical blow. Her words stung me and I was no longer able to think, speak or interact properly. Our pleasant picnic was ruined and I left feeling shattered.
But I’ve been writing and making art for nearly twenty years now, and this wasn’t the first time I’ve received criticism that wasn’t kind. You’ve probably faced inept feedback as well. If you’re putting your work into the world, chances are someone has shared comments that may be well-intentioned but come across as an attack.
How to cope with feedback that is harsh, negative, or even mean? It may be difficult to unearth useful criticism when you feel that you’ve been attacked. Follow these six steps to work through it and extract something useful from the sting.
1. Set the Feedback Aside
Give yourself time to let the emotions settle. A perspective clouded by anger or disappointment will not allow for your best work. Don’t do anything right away. If I had gone and looked at my videos while I felt such a blow, it would have been an opportunity for my inner critic to unleash in a way that could have stopped me from producing my show.
2. Consider the Source
Whenever you receive feedback, consider the source. What are the person’s credentials? What beliefs or attitudes is she operating from? What’s her intention or agenda for you?
Decide whether the person giving feedback has expertise or knowledge of your field and whether you can set aside the manner of delivery to find critique that will improve your work. The friend who gave me feedback is a filmmaker so she her perspective could be useful. On the other hand, she could be judging my amateur video making from a professional perspective, holding it to a standard that I cannot achieve at this stage.
3. Process the Emotions
When you get news that your writing is wordy, or that your art is trite, or that your business idea is stupid and downright pathetic, you’re likely to slip into a downward spiral of emotions. You’ll cycle through anger, grief, remorse and despair. It will be a party for your inner critic who loves to say “I told you so. You’re not that great.” This critic will take the feedback and balloon it into something worse. A need for editing becomes the fear that I’m hopelessly boring and that the show is pathetic.
Do not bury these emotions. Give them a chance to breathe so they don’t fester and turn you bitter. Try these tactics to work through your feelings: vent to a sympathetic friend, beat a pillow, exercise to sweat it out, dance. Write it all in your journal or in a letter to the feedback giver. Writing helps to release the feelings and prevents them from circling around and around in your head. Clear your mind so you can discern what’s useful.
Connect with a trusted friend and ask to be reminded of the truth of you and your work. There’s nothing like the salve of our loved ones to soothe a bruised ego. Be sure to speak with one of your biggest fans, and let them tell you how great you are. Soak it in.
I asked another friend if it was true that my show desperately needs editing. He reminded me that not everyone will be drawn to the segments in my show. He also reminded me that even if I could improve, what I was doing already – producing a weekly video show that I taught myself how to do – was still pretty impressive. With that boost, I was able to unplug from the fear that my show was terrible.
4. Look for What’s Useful
Once you feel less emotionally charged, ask yourself these questions: What’s true about the feedback? What can I learn? You’ll know that the emotions have cleared when you are able to answer these questions without getting defensive or focusing on how angry you are at the feedback giver.
Now, when I edit my videos, I hear my friend’s voice. But I’ve deleted the loop that had the negative voice and have kept the part that makes me be more ruthless and sharp with editing. It’s a challenge, and one that I have accepted.
5. Respond to the Feedback Giver
You may want to respond to the person who let you have the brunt of her opinion. Before you do, ask yourself this question. For the sake of what do I need to respond? You may find that you simply want to attack back. You may want to let the person know that she needs to work on her feedback style. Responding may be part of helping you accept the feedback and use it.
Whether you respond is up to you. Be careful in your choice of words. Don’t continue the loop of negativity. My mom always told me, “Rise above it.” This is good advice when you feel like attacking back.
6. Keep Going
We are given feedback to further our creative work. Sometimes it may be harsh or inept. Sometimes we get glowing praise. In either case, do not let any feedback stop you. Use it to fuel your commitment to your projects. Take the feedback and use it to make your work better.
Feedback is a part of life, and an essential element of becoming an actualized creative person. You must learn to process all kinds of feedback and use it to continue on. Make use of my suggestions and let the feedback process – however stinging – become a powerful part of your creative fulfillment.
How Do You Handle Criticism?
Which of these steps work for you when you receive harsh feedback?
What steps would you add to the list?
About the Author: Certified coach Cynthia Morris provides e-books, seminars, coaching and free articles to facilitate the challenging work of creating. Juju Infusion, her web TV show about creative exuberance, can be seen on her Original Impulse Blog. Follow Cynthia on Twitter @originalimpulse.