How to provide feedback on someone else's work

Last week I shared some ideas around asking for effective feedback. This week I want to touch on how to provide effective feedback as a reviewer of someone else’s work.

Reviewing someone else’s work is a huge responsibility. If you’ve been asked to provide feedback, you’re probably feeling a little chuffed right? This person values my opinion! They want my feedback. However there’s a few reasons someone may ask you for your feedback — other than because they value what you have to share.

Perhaps you’re a stakeholder in the project and so they need you to provide sign off. Or you may have expertise and knowledge in a particular area they need advice in. You could be a team member, a friend, mentor, teacher or manager.

Whatever your relationship to the creative or project, there’s a few things you should keep in the back of your mind when reviewing to ensure your feedback is honest and unbiased:

Understand the work

  • Sit back and observe. Avoid rushing to give feedback before you’ve digested the entire body of work. Pieces which may seem out of place at a glance may come together later. You wouldn’t provide feedback on a novel when you’ve only read the first chapter — same applies.
  • Refer to the main goals. Make sure you have an understanding of the goals of the project. Who is it for? Where will it be used? What are the business goals? Having these goals in the back of your mind helps give you the appropriate lens when viewing the work.

Be transparent

  • Express the positives. We’re often quick to jump into critique sessions with negative remarks and concerns. While these are important to discuss, so are the positives. If you like something — say it. While it may not be helpful towards the project, it helps build moral and boost the confidence of the creative.
  • Express the negatives. Be honest, professional and respectful with your feedback. Ensure that your feedback is phrased constructively and openly. So instead of ‘I don’t like the shadows here’ you could say ‘I feel the shadows here could do with some improvement or attention.’
  • Add why. If you can, make sure to express why you felt a certain way or said a certain comment relating to the work. This will helpful for the creative as it helps them understand the motives behind your feedback.
  • Respect the trust you’ve been given. By asking you for feedback, the creative trusts and values your help. Be mindful not to abuse this by tramping on their work or ignoring their presentation. Be present and listen carefully to where or what they’re struggling with.

Focus on the constructive

  • Keep an open mind. This may be the most challenging one — throw your personal opinion out the window. Yep, bye-bye those ‘I don’t like blue’ comments. This type of feedback is not helpful nor constructive. Most of the time we’re asked to provide feedback on something that’s for someone else. You may not be the target market or audience. While you personally may dislike motivational quotes, perhaps the audience is fitness-loving enthusiasts who hinge on these quotes daily for inspiration and motivation. Do your best to review the work from the mind of the end user/viewer.
  • Play to your strengths. Use your knowledge and experience to provide in-depth feedback from that particular point of view. For example if you’re an experienced creative, focus on providing feedback that relates to your area of expertise. Hearing this feedback from you will be far more valuable than hearing it from their mum. Stick with what you know and try and avoid providing advice in an area outside of your expertise.

Be specific and actionable

  • Avoid sweeping statements. Broad sweeping statements like ‘the message wasn’t clear’ isn’t specific nor actionable. Alternatively, ‘There were a few places in particular like A and B where the message wasn’t as strong as others. Being more clear in these areas might help lift the overall message’ helps to identify specific areas that need action.
  • Don’t prescribe solutions. No one enjoys being told what to do. The creative is in control of the work, so it’s up to them to uncover the best solution. Instead, focus on stating the problem. Explain in as much detail why it’s a problem and if you can, make a suggestion towards how it could be improved.

Being a good reviewer takes honesty, respect and trust. While providing feedback shouldn’t be a feelings game, you should be aware of how your critique can affect others. Is it constructive? Helpful? Valid? Un-biased? As you can see there’s quite a bit of responsibility!

I love this sentiment by Roger Schwarz:

“[Being transparent] works because you’ve shifted your mindset. That shift means thinking of negative feedback as a way to help your direct reports improve as you learn what you may be missing. It means thinking of feedback as a way for you and others to make informed choices together.”
– Roger Schwarz

A way to make informed choices together. Let’s make that the end goal of every critique session, shall we?

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