Getting And Giving “Negative” Feedback

I’ve seen lots of people stress over giving negative feedback. I get it, I do too sometimes. No one wants to hear they’re bad at something, and no one wants to do that to someone else. Especially if they’re friends. But you know what? Living right isn’t easy. Sometimes you have to do the hard things.

So, how do you tell someone something negative, without feeling like a jerk? How do you accept when someone tells you something negative, without dying a little inside?

It seems to me that we’re slowly going toward a world where if you say anything negative you’re pounced on as being a “hater”. You’re told it’s unacceptable, and even wrong. But that’s not the way feedback works. Everyone loves positive feedback, and it is important, but without negative feedback how are you to ever improve? One of my favorite quotes from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer goes something like: 

“If you don’t tell me what I did wrong, I’ll probably do it again, and in public.”

Everyone makes mistakes, everyone starts out bad at things; the only way to get better is to face that and learn from it.

So, how do you give negative feedback without coming across like a jerk? There’s debate over the best way to do this, but I like the sandwich method best. It goes like this:

You start with Positivity, saying what you liked about their writing or just that you’re enjoying it so far) then you tell them what isn’t good. It’s important to be clear and specific so that they will know what to fix. Also don’t apologize, that gives them a reason to ignore it because you’re acting like you’re doing something wrong. You’re not. Also suggest ways to fix it if you can. Lastly you finish with more positive motivation. Tell them once they make changes you’d like to re-read it or that you’d love to try something else they read, if it’s just a matter of it not being your style.

The point of this kind of feedback is to soften the blow of the negative stuff by surrounding it with positives. Again, there are other ways out there, and if you don’t like this method or don’t think it will work, I suggest researching negative feedback and find a way that you’re comfortable with.

If you’re still not wanting to give negative feedback that’s your choice. But remember, not telling them what’s wrong, or worse yet, lying and saying it’s good, will not help them improve. You also may be stuck in a situation where they continue to send you things you don’t like or ask your opinion.

Now, what if you’re on the receiving end of something that looks more like a Negativity sandwich? Or worse yet, just straight up “I hated it.”

First, don’t lash out at them. No matter how rude they are, that won’t solve anything, and it may make things worse. There are trolls out there who thrive on conflict. We have more than enough conflict in the world without feeding them. 

Next, remember that they’re talking about your work, not you personally. No matter how much blood sweat and tears you put into making it, it’s still not you. (If they are talking about you personally when all they did is read your work, well, they’re a troll or they suck and hate their life and you shouldn’t listen to them.)

Then, go over what they said critically. Pick it apart in a logical way, and ask yourself questions like these: 

Is what they’re saying strictly a matter of opinion? 

Is what they’re saying true?

Is what they’re saying something that I can research and learn more about?

For any feedback that is true, and you agree with, work on it. Remind yourself you want to be the best writer you can be. In order to do that you need to know both what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong.

If it’s not true, or you don’t think they have a point, thank them for their feedback (just think how hard it is for you to give criticism) and move on with your life. You don’t have to act on every piece of feedback that comes your way. 

Lastly, every time you do get positive feedback, save it, collect it all in a folder or binder. Keep that positivity file handy, so that whenever you do receive negative feedback that is making it hard to continue, you can look it over. Even some of the best writers do this, because they too get negative feedback. (Imagine that.)

I hope this was helpful in some way. Please leave a comment with your feedback for me, good or bad. I can take it 🙂

Happy reading/writing.

Let's chat! :) Let me know what you think.