A Crash Course on Constructive Criticism

My managers at my first job gaslit me into believing I couldn’t take criticism. Five months of nitpicking led to anxiety attacks and daydreams of working literally anywhere. Once I found my place with the Caster Crew, I learned not only to embrace feedback, but to seek it. Learning the difference between nitpicking and honest, constructive criticism was step one.

At my old job, I received emails filled with redlines and inconsistent changes that contradicted previous notes. This made me dread feedback because it felt random and thoughtless. Since I started at Caster in February, I’ve received advice from nearly all of my co-workers on a variety of projects. My notes have ranged from “great point you made on…” to “next time, do this…” The common denominator here is that regardless of sentiment, the feedback is clear, concise, honest and most importantly, actionable.

Here’s what my team at Caster has taught me, so far, about giving and receiving feedback.

Giving Feedback

Vaguely positive notes are more unmotivating than negative feedback. “Good job” isn’t a helpful note if it isn’t followed by what specifically was done well. It also makes it look like the reviewer skimmed over the piece without much thought. It is way more useful to say something specific, like, “nice job finding this article – this is good to share on social media.” On the flip side, negative feedback that clearly states what could be done better is much more useful than a blanket statement like “good job,” as it provides context for actionable improvements.

Unspecific negative notes are useless. Equally as unhelpful as “good job” is “this is wrong.” While you don’t want others to be afraid to ask for your feedback, it’s important to frame it in an honest and meaningful way. Make it clear that you want the recipient to succeed, not fail. If you can explain why what they did is wrong, it’s motivational instead of inconclusive and demoralizing.

Don’t immediately write something off as bad. Before making the decision to throw something in the discard pile, analyze it from different perspectives. Could it be tailored to a different audience? Is there a better point to focus on? It is important to note that while some pieces can be salvaged with a new approach, have the courage to tell someone when an idea should be scrapped.

Give pointed feedback to your advisors. It’s scary to give constructive criticism to someone with more experience than you. When your manager or boss asks you to look over something, they are asking for honest feedback. The same goes for clients: they want us to identify and mitigate any weaknesses we can find, not validate their existing plans. Give others’ work the same critical analysis you’re hoping for when you ask for feedback.

Getting Feedback

Get in the habit of seeking feedback. Even when you know a proposal or a piece of writing is strong, ask for review. There could be mistakes or areas that are unclear to the audience that a different set of eyes can pick up on.

Let it marinate. When someone gives feedback, you don’t need to respond right away. Take some time to digest and try to look at your work through their lens. What do you agree and disagree with? If someone gives you a suggestion that doesn’t feel right, you don’t have to use it. Trust your instincts.

Negative feedback doesn’t need to be “bad” – use it as motivation. When your advisors tell you that something you did was wrong and why, they want you to succeed. Internalize the feedback and think about what you can adjust so you can apply the feedback going forward.

And lastly…

Don’t take it personally, even when it feels like an attack. This is one that I am still working on, and so are most people. No one likes to be told something they don’t want to hear but addressing those insecure areas will only help you grow in the long run.

The ability to give and receive helpful feedback is a valuable skill. That said, being able to give yourself constructive criticism is equally as important. When giving or receiving feedback, always remember to ask yourself, is this actionable? Then make changes accordingly.

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