Baby CriesOne of the more popular posts of the past year was the (intentionally) provocatively titled, Your Baby’s Ugly, a discussion challenging us to deliver candid but caring feedback when evaluating the work of a fellow artist.  It has become apparent that it is equally important to know how to appropriately respond when it is our work that is being critiqued.

I would not say that I am the most adept individual at effectively processing feedback, but I recognize that in order to grow as an artist, I need to get better at “taking it” as well as I dish it out.  Here are a few points that I consider when I’m in the hotseat and perhaps they will prove helpful to you.

  1. Don’t get defensive.  More than likely, the message you’re receiving is not intended to be an all-out attack on your talent or artistic sensibilities.  And even the most carefully and constructively delivered criticism carries with it a sting of pain.  When this occurs, take a deep breath and resist every urge to respond in a rash or defensive manner.  Don’t interrupt, don’t make excuses, and – for goodness sake – don’t attack the messenger.  
  2. Build up your calluses. If you play a stringed instrument, you know that practice quickly becomes painful if you haven’t built up some thick skin – which only come with time and more practice.  In the same way, you should seek frequent opportunities to present your creative output in order to receive constructive feedback.  In this way, you will feel the sting of criticism less acutely.  As you subject yourself to that criticism, you will become more adept at processing it and become less sensitive to it.
  3. Consider the motive.  If someone actually takes the time to prepare and subsequently share constructive criticism, don’t make the assumption that their motives are spiteful.  Instead, recognize that it is likely coming from a desire to assist you in your journey toward quality and not from a place intended to cause harm.
  4. Demonstrate Gratitude.  Always be gracious when you receive thoughtful and considerate feedback from another.  Do not make them regret the gift of their time.  Of course you should say “thank you”, but also consider some other way you can demonstrate your appreciation.  Send a postcard, buy them a cup of coffee (or Starbucks gift card), do something that communicates you seriously value their opinion and effort.
  5. Choose your poison. OK, poison is probably a poor choice of words.  Still, be deliberate when you decide with whom to share your work.  Effectively, sharing your work in an arbitrary manner will result in arbitrary feedback.  Identify people you respect and trust, people who work in or have a specific appreciation for the associated medium.
  6. Acceptance.  Be prepared to acknowledge that the work you’ve created out of much sweat and many tears may not be revelatory. You may have to file that it away in what is undoubtedly going to become a rather large lessons learned pile. In fact, if your lessons learned pile is small, you are either not sharing enough or you are not working enough or you are being unrealistic.

How about you?  What would you add to the list?  What would you change?  Are there particular times when you have responded either poorly or successfully with criticism?  Let us know in the comments below.

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