Feedback can sting. But getting helpful feedback is the only way we can get better. “You don’t learn anything by being perfect all the time,” says Devin Bramhall, director of marketing at content marketing agency Animalz.
Devin joined us recently for Managing Editor Live! to discuss how she has learned to give and receive effective feedback.
Keep reading for Devin’s tips, or watch her full talk here.
Create a Culture of Openness
First, ask yourself: Do you have a healthy feedback culture on your team? Before you can start sharing notes on creative work, you need to establish a goal-oriented, positive feedback process. “Shame has no place in a healthy feedback culture,” explains Devin. “People will be afraid to try new things if they feel they’re going to be judged or yelled at.”
At Animalz, Devin and her team have created a process oriented around feedback. First, the writer makes a detailed outline, outlining an article’s intended audience and core goals.
The editor then gives an enormous amount of feedback before the draft is actually written. That initial feedback step wipes out any confusion early in the process, and helps the editor redirect the writer before they’ve gotten too far into their draft. An outline step clears up the confusion that might sometimes arise over differences in direction or content — and the frustration that comes with going back to a blank Google Doc.
“Process keeps people productive, motivated and happy doing their work.”
Remember: Everyone Takes Feedback Differently
Unfortunately for editors, not all writers are built the same. We receive feedback in different ways. “If you try to treat everybody exactly the same, you’re more likely to fail,” Devin cautions.
Devin tries to get to know each of writer as well as she can, so she can understand what they need for their creative processes. Getting to know each other also creates a sense of empathy, where Devin and the writer can relate to each other better and build the trust they need to effectively communicate.
One way to tailor your feedback to your contributors is to ask questions during the feedback process. “Giving feedback is a lot of telling,” Devin says. “But you want to make sure that you understand where the person is coming from.” Not only will your feedback be better, but you will also empower your writer to make their own creative decisions:
“It’s so much richer when you can help the person come to the conclusion themselves than if you have to tell them.”
Listen and Grow
When you’re the one receiving feedback, try to approach your work with an open mind and a sense of objectivity. “Don’t be defensive,” Devin says. “That’s not listening.” Leave your ego behind and resist the urge to explain yourself. Listening without defending will help you absorb the information and use the opportunity for improvement.
You won’t always like the feedback you receive; sometimes it may come from a client who has a different vision. But instead of dwelling on the criticism, Devin says, embrace the challenge as a creative constraint:
“That’s an opportunity for you to dig deeper in your creativity and come up with something even better.”