How to Give Better Feedback

Even if you're not a manager, working as part of a team requires you to give and receive feedback. And while it's always difficult to receive negative feedback, it's even more difficult to give it, especially when it comes to something creative.

When you create something, it's a part of you. I've written before that writing is a very personal act, but that's true of anything creative—copy, design, heck, even a strategy is creative. When you're in a position to give feedback, you must balance the hard truths with your humanity and empathy.

Here are some tips I've learned as part of the creative process, and as serving as copyeditor for almost everything that comes out of the Litmus "studio."

Context is key.

Said no one ever.

Said no one ever.

Giving good feedback starts with context, because that's how our brain works. When you learn, you take information and match it with the information you already know—the context. So if you give isolated feedback without connecting it to an event, project, or specific example, it'll just seem random. And if it's negative, it's guaranteed to be rejected.

Related: Why Context Is King

When it comes to giving creative notes, not everyone may be in every strategy meeting, so communicating the strategic reasons behind your feedback is important too. You don’t need to necessarily have a solution (that’s the fun for your creative folks) but rather than vaguely saying, "Make it pop," identify very clearly what seems wrong to you and why.

That way, your team is more likely to rally around the feedback and take it as constructive, instead of dismissing it or grumbling that you're swooping in and telling them how to do their jobs.

    Make sure your feedback is in the relevant phase of the project

    Biggest. Pet. Peeve. Ever.

    Of course there are some instances where things need to be scrapped. Nitpicky or difficult changes well after the rounds of feedback mean you missed the boat. Don't take my advice, take Voltaire's:

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    Keep the project moving. If it's a glaring error, typo, or otherwise terrible for your brand, that's one thing. But if you would say that a tiny bit differently but the brochure has already gone to print, you've missed your opportunity, and you'll have to accept it.

    Always be specific.

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    Say exactly what you want changed. And I mean exactly.

    There's nothing worse than handing something to someone only to have them pronounce that they "don't like it," but can't tell you why or what to fix. If you have issues with something, be patient enough to walk through the specifics. If it's creative, that means setting up the infrastructure to make your suggestions (for instance, in Google docs for writing or in Invision for design). 

    Be realistic with yourself—do you like the idea, but not the way someone put it together? Are you getting hung up on specific words and phrasing when they're looking for feedback on strategy? Or did they translate your original vision incorrectly? Either way, you need to be specific when giving your feedback, and recognize that it's on you if something got lost in translation, not them. 

    Frame it as a challenge to tackle together

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    Let them be creative with your suggestions and make it their own, instead of feeling like everything needs to be exactly the way you want it to be. Make it a challenge to be solved and open up the possibilities that you might not think of. For example, instead of saying, “Change this to a pie graph,” ask, “Is there a different way we can show this data?” 

    Other examples that work well in positioning feedback as questions that can spark new ideas and innovations:

    • What about XYZ?
    • What would happen if you took this away, would it still be usable?
    • Can we streamline this more?

    Tie everything back to the big picture

    This goes along with context, but in a broader sense. How does this project fit together with the rest of the moving parts? Whether it's a piece of a UX flow, a single email in a broader nurture campaign, or what this blog post will do for the bottom line, tie everything into your company's mission and purpose.

    That generally brings you back to the customer. Position your feedback so that everyone understands where you're coming from, and how it fits beyond the day-to-day or a specific example, but the broader company strategy. That way, instead of feeling fed up, frustrated, and upset that their work wasn't taken seriously, everyone is on board and excited to tackle the next round of problems.

    Read this next: Why Is Editing So Emotional?