As artists, therapists and people in the world we all have to give and take feedback. When I work as an artist, my feedback is often framed as reviews and critiques. As a therapist, my feedback happens in a more personal way with clients assessing and evaluating my work weekly, then deciding to return for more sessions or not. I am also reviewed by: the agencies that contract me, students who take my workshops and courses, and my children who show up for Sunday night dinner. It is part of my life. Am I comfortable with feedback and that the world is always assessing and evaluating me? Yes, when it is positive, confirming and or gently and kindly done. No, when it is confusing, judgmental and destructive. We grow from doing more of what is working and less of what isn’t working. Good feedback helps me understand what is working and what is not. Criticism reduces the chance that I will hear what others are saying and often throws me into a defensive mode that may cause me to retreat, and or become angry. It is easy to criticize the one who is doing, teaching, demonstrating and or reaching out. When the criticism happens in a way that there is no opportunity for a discussion about potential, change or growth, then it is not helpful. How do I know if the comment or criticism is more about the person giving it and their issues or if it is a fair assessment of my work? Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t.
When I was younger and had to give out evaluation forms at the end of each art workshop or class I taught, I would shudder. What if they didn’t like the way I teach? What if they thought the workshop was lacking? What I found over the years is that the feedback was mostly very positive and helpful, but the one or two negative comments would stick with me and I would chew them over when I was tired, stressed or bored. It would have been helpful if I could have asked the unsatisfied students more about why they were feeling that way. Has reviewing feedback helped? Yes when it was thoughtful and directed at something that I could improve upon; i.e., more of this and less of that. It is not helpful when the comments are attacks on personality, or so general that it is difficult to reference them back to the class. If 29 people liked the art workshop and found it helpful how could 2 find it meaningless, useless, and or lacking?
Evaluation forms have added another layer of anonymity by being done online. I would rather be evaluated by someone in person with a chance for a discussion so I could really understand their point of view. It is easy to give harmful, thoughtless, or generalized feedback anonymously.
We’re all imperfect beings struggling to live our lives with grace. What we say affects others whether it is to their face or on an evaluation form done online. Be thoughtful, kind and honest. Reread what you wrote if it is negative and really ask yourself why you are saying what you are saying. Ask yourself if you were receiving this feedback would it be helpful? Is it psychologically violent?
If you are receiving harmful or hurtful feedback that causes you to feel defensive do you agree with it at some level? I think that I am a good teacher, but I also feel inadequate, and unprepared sometimes. We all feel some truth in most remarks, as there is a part of us that believes that we could always do better, or more. Try to feel the truth of the remark without blame, shame or guilt. But also feel the other part or parts of you that know that you are doing an excellent job, working with integrity and talent, and trying hard to reach your students, audience or your own potential. Try to stay curious about what you may be missing. If you find a truth in there somewhere, act on it. It may be a different truth than the student or workshop attendee intended, but it may be true for you.
Criticism can be invalidating, condescending, judgmental, negatively evaluative, and accusatory. Feedback focuses on giving information that can help the person change or reconsider. It is descriptive, not judgmental and provides concrete information that can be motivating or informative. Feedback does not focus on personal attacks and destructive remarks. Feedback is designed to inform not attack. Our instinct is to defend when attacked. I want to be able to re-valuate and self-reflect when I read evaluation forms and feedback can help me do that. Criticism is harder to read objectively as it is often aggressive not assertive communication.
How do you work with feedback and how do you deal with criticism?