March 15, 2017

The best way to ask for feedback

How to prepare your critique session to receive feedback that's actually helpful
“Hey, would love to hear your thoughts on this. Can I please get some feedback?”

How many times have you received a message like this? For me I’ve lost count.

We’re all guilty of doing this. But a poorly asked question often leads to a poorly answered response. Ask any creative and they’ll agree there’s good and bad quality feedback. When bad quality feedback is received, most of us blame the reviewer and their lack of knowledge, experience or understanding.

What if we could turn that around. When asking them for feedback, is there a best way? What if we spent that little extra time with the reviewer making sure they had enough knowledge, experience and understanding before they dive into their critique.

Reviewers could be anyone — a friend, colleague, client, family member or even a beta tester. Maybe they’re familiar with your industry and project, sometimes they’re not. Understanding their relationship to your project is a huge first step in determining whether they’re the right person to even ask for feedback.

As the creative, setting the stage for feedback has a huge influence on the quality of feedback you’ll get in return.

Three strategies for getting good feedback

Before we get started with discussing strategies — if you’re asking anyone other than a colleague or client, always ask for permission. People are busy (just like you — surprise!). They don’t enjoy getting interrupted and have their own lives to juggle. You’re asking them for a favour so treat it as such.

Regardless of who you’re requesting feedback from, always be up front about what you’re asking them for. It could be as simple as saying “Hey do you have 15 minutes this week to provide some feedback on a book I’m working on?”. Please, never start your request with just “hello”.

Here’s some strategies to help you ask for feedback on your next project:

1. Provide context

Set the scene. Are you writing a book? Who’s it for? How are you publishing it? What price will it sell for? Set the scene for them and refer to your goals.

Don’t give too much away. You want the reviewer to see your work in the same light as it will be seen in the real world. Encourage them to critique from the mind and eyes of your audience or end user, not from their personal opinions and beliefs.

Outline a user scenario. How, where and when might the work be experienced or used? Understanding whether an advertisement will end up as a banner ad on a web page or a gigantic billboard on the highway are two very different experiences and environments.

Be prepared to take questions. Be available for questions along the way from the reviewer. It’s unlikely they’ll go into the dark and appear later with all the answers you were looking for. Your reviewer likely has uncertainties or a question that needs answering so they can better understand. Make sure your door is open.

2. Be specific

Set expectations. As the creative it’s your responsibility to set the expectation of the reviewer. Keep in mind that this could be the first time they’ve been asked to provide feedback. Don’t be surprised if they need a little hand holding to get started. A great place to start is by providing examples of ‘constructive’ and ‘non constructive’ feedback.

Provide questions. What is it in particular that you need feedback on? Are you seeking opinion on the entire body of work or just one puzzle piece? Do you want feedback on the grammar, language, tone, user experience, visual aesthetics, emotion, positioning, messaging…? Identify what you’d like them to focus on and provide them with a list of questions to keep in mind when reviewing your work.

Identify your weaknesses. What are you already unsure about or struggling with? If there’s something in particular you’re looking for feedback on, don’t fish for it — ask for it. Let them know you’re open to suggestions for improvement.

Give a deadline. State a preferred due date for the feedback. If you’ve asked for feedback as a favour of the other person it’s unlikely to become their priority. If time is factor, let them know so they can keep that in mind. Too often I’ve been asked for feedback only to deliver it too late because I was unaware of deadlines.

3. Be open to constructive critique

Don’t fish for compliments. If you’re fishing for compliments, asking for feedback is not the way to go. Compliments lead you to believe you’ve done a good job which can change your attitude and momentum towards your project.

Have an open mind. While feedback can contain praise, good feedback also contains constructive criticism. Be open towards looking at your work from a different angle. You don’t have to implement all the feedback you receive — but you should take it all on board. You’re allowed to disagree with feedback but don’t throw it out the window too soon. If someone suggests something you’re confused about, don’t hesitate to follow up with them and ask to clarify.

Be a good listener. Don’t interrupt the reviewer when they’re giving their feedback. As much as you may want to justify a tiny piece they’re critiquing with, keep your mouth shut and breathe. You don’t need to take everything suggested on board but you do have to be a good listener and respect their observations. Always thank them.

Ask why. There’s always an opportunity to dig deeper and ask the reviewer why. This can help to uncover an underlying problem they were facing but didn’t know how to express. It’s ok to challenge them — uncovering hidden motives can be hugely valuable. Try this and see if it helps you identify the root problem behind the critique.

What next?

Now that you’ve got all the feedback you need, it’s time to make sense of it so you can use it for decision making. If you’ve asked for feedback from multiple people it’s best to first collate the feedback and analyse it as a whole. What common themes or recurring suggestions arise? Grouping those themes helps to get a sense of which ones might have more impact or urgency.

Next, it’s time to form a plan…

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