Ask These Five Questions to Receive Better Feedback
The road to success is paved with constructive criticism
Freaking Mark Manson once praised my writing. A year ago, my ego rose above the clouds and remained there for a minute or twenty-two.
As days went by, however, my poor $tats slowly brought me back to reality. After at least seven long minutes of deep reflection, I realized three things.
- Mark was just being nice to one of his fanboys.
- One day, I’ll brag about what happened anyway.
- I was asking for feedback from the wrong dude.
We, creators, seek recognition from people we admire and love. We ask for their opinion and blush at their compliments, which is cute but also counterproductive.
Idols, close friends, and intimate partners are the worst critics. They’re too freaking biased. If you want honest feedback, look for it among fellow creators. They’ll prioritize your growth over stroking your ego.
This is not an article about how to find these people though. With social media and Slack, I’m sure you can find your dream team if you haven’t already. This article is about the questions that will help you harness the best possible feedback.
1. Who’s best with what?
In robbery movies, each member of the gang has a particular skill. One puts together a perfect plan, another is a genius hacker, a third is a gifted driver, and the last is often a risk-taker who saves the day in a crazy way.
Your creator friends are like a gang of bank robbers. They shine in different aspects of your craft. For instance, my friend
Their capabilities weren’t written on their beautiful faces though. I had to dig a bit and I suggest you do the same.
Chat with your gang and check out their work, and soon you’ll uncover their secret skills. From there, ask yourself “Who can advise me best with this and that?”
Not only will you receive specific improvement points, but you’ll also show how much you value your gang members’ abilities.
2. What’s wrong with this?
Once you know who to ask, you want to focus on how to ask.
If you handed me a draft saying “What do you think?” I’d fire back with the first thought that’d cross my mind. I think many would do the same. If you want your counterpart to go beyond first impressions, you need to be hella specific. “What’s wrong with this?” is a good start.
Upon receiving this question, your creator friend will focus on spotting mistakes. Maybe your intro is clunky or the colors you’re using are depressing. Encourage people to tell you that.
Our societies are overdosing with positivity, which discourages peoples from being honest about the sucky parts of your work. Free them from the positivity chains and thank them for pointing out your shortcomings.
3. How can I make this better?
Spotting mistakes is only one side of the feedback coin. The flipside focuses on what’s missing instead of what’s already there but needs fixing.
“How can I improve this?” shifts the attention of your feedback buddy towards fruitful additions. It’s like spicing things up in a recipe. It could be a missing link between two sections, an example that would clarify your point, or an illustration that would break the monotony.
I wouldn’t stick to one type of question though. Keep flipping the feedback coin by alternating between how to make things better and how to fix issues. More important, you gotta listen — but not all the time.
4. What are my non-negotiables?
Once the feedback wave splashes all over your eyes, you’ll have some choices to make. What to take and what to discard. The fourth question is about the latter.
“What are my non-negotiables?” helps you define the things that distinguish you as a creator. Here’s an example.
One of my favorite things to do with writing is to come up with weird comparisons. Some of these comparisons suck like a vacuum cleaner and my friends often suggest I trade them with classic ones. I often decline because the weirdness is part of my identity as a creator.
Don’t let feedback kill your voice or curb your creativity. Put together a list of non-negotiables that make you, you. It could be format, tone, or certain colors. Also hey, don’t freak out if you’re not doing some weird shit yet. It’ll come later and when it does, embrace it.
5. How would I approach this?
Now it’s your turn to give some feedback.
As you scan a piece from your creator friend, turn on your self-awareness radar. As soon as you spot an idea or a detail that you’d frame differently, pause and write down how you’d do it. Your note will inspire your friend and spark a stimulating conversation.
Every Tuesday, I swap drafts with my friend
Clément. The routine often leads to a discussion around marketing and crypto-stuff. On most weeks, I’d discover new angles I doubt I would’ve seen without Clément’s insights.
Content isn’t only about gathering ideas; it’s also about how you approach them. Confronting your approach with that of others opens your mind to new perspectives. Remember, a creator’s mind is like a parachute: it works best when open.
Feedback is the way
You stuck around reading 900 words about harnessing feedback for a reason. You know it works. The catch? Most people picture feedback as something you do every once in a while. They’re wrong.
Feedback should become part of your work routine. Team up with creators from different backgrounds. Swap drafts with them and ask questions like “What’s wrong with this?” and “How can I make this better?” Protect your personal touch and finally, engage in debates.
Got it? Now repeat the process for the rest of your creative life. Sounds like a long time? That’s because:
“There are no fucking shortcuts.” — Mark Manson
Business | Psychology | Marketing — What's your favorite quote? Mine is "True masters are eternal students."