Nov. 3, 2013

Getting feedback without having it blow up in your face!

“Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.”  (Frank A. Clark) 

The annual literary brunch is over! On a scale of 1 to 10, you’ve rated the event an 8, but you’re curious about how others would rate it. You reach out to someone whose opinion you respect and ask, “How do you feel the event went?” She responds with a three-page detailed analysis that includes every facet of the event or she simply says, “It was nice!” Unfortunately neither response is useful.  The first response contained more information than can be easily processed and the second provided none. You, however, can change how you are presented with feedback by simply changing the method you use to gather it.

Give yourself a break and don’t rush to gather information. Take time to do a self-assessment so that you’re clear about the kind of feedback you want or need. Are you looking for pointers about how to improve what you’re doing or are you looking for specific feedback about a particular part of your program? Once you define which would be most useful, concentrate your questions in those areas. If you ask for suggestions, understand that asking in no way obligates you to embrace what is given.

Design your questions so that:

  • Answers can be kept simple – a few succinct sentences rather than several pages;
  • The reviewer will focus on description rather than judgment;
  • Are limited to two or three important points.

Feedback should be a two-way communication. If you question something the reviewer observed, contact her and ask for clarification. Observations are what a person sees, interpretations are their opinion of what occurred. Neither you nor the reviewer can be aware of everything that has gone on at the event so keep the lines of communication open.

Consider that the needs of the audience and the needs of the exhibitors are different, so their observations and your questions should accordingly be different.

Sample Author Questions

  • Were you pleased with your set-up (display area, table, etc.)?
  • Did you meet new readers and expand your literary reach; were you pleased with book sales?
  • Is there one aspect of this event you would change or one that you thought worked well? Briefly explain your answer.

Sample Attendee Questions

  • Did the event meet your expectations? If not, briefly explain why.
  • Please identify one aspect of the event which exceeded your expectations and why.
  • Is there one aspect of the event you believe could be improved and why.

If the feedback you receive seems unfair or overly critical, don’t take it personally, react aggressively, try to find fault or prove the other person wrong.  If necessary, set it aside until you feel more objective. Accept that you cannot learn anything new unless you’re willing to acknowledge that there may be a better way to achieve your goals. Thank the reviewer for the feedback and at the end of the day, feel free to do what you believe works best for you. Don’t allow negative feedback to become more important than your trust and belief in your own intuition, knowledge and judgment.

When the shoe is on the other foot and someone asks you to provide feedback, apply the same principles. Do not be overly detailed or assertive, so the person being evaluated doesn’t feel overwhelmed or become defensive. And remember that how you say something often carries more weight than what you say.



Edited on February 6, 2015