I frequently ask for constructive criticism on my work. I routinely ask people to read my writing and listen to my music. Yet I rarely get responses, and when I do, it may come in one of three forms.
One: No feedback. Someone offers to tell me what they think and then never does.
I don’t take this personally. 1) The person may not have really wanted to give me feedback, but was being polite and saying yes; 2) The person may have wanted to give me feedback, but didn’t really think about the commitment of time and effort they were making; 3) The person may have had feedback they were afraid to give me. In all of these cases, it’s best to let it go, just like knowing that not every seed you put in the ground is going to germinate.
Two: False feedback. Someone gives me a response that is of no real value.
This kind of feedback is harmless if you’re aware of what it is. Dad will always tell me how great I am and it’s best to let him say it because he loves me. Meanwhile, certain people clearly haven’t really looked at my stuff, and they feel obligated to make up something to save their embarrassment.
There are also people who, either consciously or unconsciously, will attempt to sabotage my efforts. They may feel the need to be highly critical, either because they want to take me down or because they are very hard on themselves and can’t shut it off. I have to be very vigilant about knowing the relationship I have with the person I’m asking.
If someone is critical of me, I have to decide whether what they’re saying has merit. I usually find that if the majority of people dislike my work, then there’s something wrong with what I’ve done, but if only one person dislikes it, then it’s more about them. Either way, I thank them for taking the time to respond because there may be a germ of truth in what they’ve said.
Three: Good feedback. I get a thoughtful account of what I’ve done.
People who give genuine responses are very hard to find. Some friends or family will provide quality feedback one day and not another. If I pay for it, I am cautious, because there are many unethical or unqualified people who advertise their services, and the more problems they find, the more they can charge!
As a rule, I seek out those people who I have vetted over the years as both thoughtful and interested. I respect the possibility that they may or may not be able when I ask to tell my what they think. I ask them, follow up once, then leave them alone.
As hard as it is to get, I recommend seeking out opinions on your work. The negative feedback tends to be the most valuable and it’s the kind people are least likely to provide unless you really press them for it. Meanwhile, if you get positive feedback you know is genuine, it can be a strong signal that you’re really on target, and that years of trial and error have finally paid off.
I’d like your feedback. Do these three categories sound familiar? Is it helpful for you to have them spelled out?