As writers, we’re often very protective of our work. We’re personally invested in it, we’ve spent a lot of time crafting something we like, and we want to think we’re putting our best stuff out there. Asking for feedback on what we’ve written leaves us open to potential judgment and criticism. Getting that feedback can make us feel really vulnerable.
Of course no one wants to be criticized. When we’re wearing our writer’s hat, though, it’s very helpful to get feedback from others about our work. We can easily lose perspective on what we’ve written because we’re either too close to it or have been working on it so long that we stop seeing it with fresh eyes.
It can be very challenging to leave our egos at the door and ask for feedback on what we’ve written, but in the professional world, it’s essential if we want to make sure that what we’ve written is concise, correct, and fulfills its purpose.
When we’re in a business setting, getting feedback on our writing can also help our careers. Sending out documents that are confusing, wordy, or jumbled, or delivering a PowerPoint presentation with embarrassing typos, looks unprofessional and will lead others to make judgments about our skill sets. On the other hand, error-free documents and slide decks that are clear and compelling reflect well on our attention to detail, our critical thinking skills, and our leadership abilities.
In this post, we’re going to talk about how to ask for and accept feedback on our writing.
Tips on Asking for Feedback
Accept feedback graciously. Again, this can be difficult. We all want to do a great job with our work, and any kind of constructive feedback can be a lot to take. Our emotions can rear up and actually get in the way of us being able to benefit from the process. Pay attention to what you’re feeling, and try not to let your emotions prevent you from hearing what your colleagues are saying.
Don’t defend yourself. A professor I had in a writing class set a great ground rule for us as students during the days when we were receiving feedback from our peers on what we’d written: we weren’t allowed to respond to any of the comments. We just had to sit and listen to them. We could make notes, or we could simply absorb what was said.
This was hard to do – at first. I think we all have a natural tendency to want to defend ourselves, or at least explain if there was something that was misunderstood. But after a day or two of receiving feedback in this way, I realized that this was actually a lovely gift. Instead of spending my energy and brainpower thinking up my defense – and missing out on what my peers were saying to me – I could sit back and take in what was truly helpful to me, knowing that not all of the suggestions were things I would use in my revision process. It was also great to be able to pay attention to what kind of impact my writing had. Sometimes, I was even pleasantly surprised by what others had found in my work.
I would encourage you to not only seek out your colleagues’ feedback, but to do so without trying to defend yourself. You can do this either by asking them to mark up your document – or track their changes electronically – and give it back to you without having a long conversation about it. Or if you do get verbal feedback from them, make an effort to just take it all in. Don’t offer explanations, don’t defend your choices, just listen closely to what they have to say. Afterwards, you can take the feedback and decide what to do with it. You don’t have to take every suggestion or make every change they advise. Giving yourself room to process, absorb, and make a clear-headed decision will only strengthen your final product. Don’t give in to knee-jerk defensiveness, because your writing – and by extension, you as a writer – won’t get the benefits of the feedback process.
Always thank people for editing your documents. They’re doing you a favor and helping you put your best written face forward and grow as a writer. They also probably feel slightly uncomfortable giving you feedback. When asked to provide constructive comments, we don’t want to be seen as being harsh or critical, and we don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings. Showing appreciation for their willingness to do you this favor can help ease their stress about the situation.
And speaking of editing someone else’s documents: my next post will focus on how to provide constructive feedback to someone else about their writing.
How do you handle getting feedback on your work? Share your comments here!