One effective way to divide the kind of criticism you’ll get for your work is to split the feedback between that which comes from someone who has done the work you’re doing and that which comes from someone else.
It doesn’t necessarily mean one category will always be effective or helpful or productive or not. Those are further distinctions. But when I’m receiving critical feedback — on something I’ve written or presented or shared — often the first check I make is that one.
Take most seriously criticism from those who have done what you do. For everyone else, the stakes are just too low.
— Christopher Wink (@christopherwink) September 30, 2017
Has the person who is giving me this feedback actually done what they’re giving me feedback on. Do they know the limitations and challenges of it? Because if they have, whether or not I like what they say, I tend to find their feedback is more often helpful.
It’s obvious of course, but it’s a worthwhile reminder. When we know our own work in a field can be put up for judgment, we tend to soften our feedback. If I’ve never painted a painting, I really have very little to lose to criticize someone else’s painting. It’s that idea that the people I respect most are ones who can be blamed for something important.
Critically, though, I do not dismiss feedback, however critical, from someone who is an outsider to what I’m doing. Instead I first couch their viewpoint in a different way to reduce the burn (people tend to be a lot meaner when they’re removed from judgment), and then I search for something of value. I find that is an effective way to make feedback from, say, an anonymous commenter about a story of mine or a passerby about a company decision I’ve made, actually helpful.
It becomes a selfish act to benefit me. I don’t much care if someone challenges my character or paints way too broad a brush in their criticism. Rather, I’m seeing their often petty and small-minded attack as a chance for me to get something out of it. To be sure, plenty of times there is nothing of value — the world is full of angry and dismissive people — but once I set aside someone’s brutishness, I have found value in people who really have no idea what they’re talking about.
So listen most carefully when you get feedback from someone who has done what you are doing. Be patient and open then. For the rest of the critics, discard their agenda and only take from their comments what helps you.
(Photo of art in the Black Rock Desert by Gerome Viavant via Unsplash)