Ways to Give Negative Feedback to Creative People

Business Communication 19th October 2016 Mitali Bose

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Dishing out negative feedback to creative people is tricky because you know if it is taken in the right stride. As someone who works with a team of writers, photographers, videographers, designers and artists, I am often in a quandary as to the right way of giving feedback. When you set up a meeting, you are naturally as worried as the person you’re giving the feedback to – what if the other person doesn’t take it well. Each time you have to do this you suffer from the proverbial ‘foot is the mouth’ syndrome. It’s you who knows (not them, obviously) that the amount of hard work that went in the work is for nothing or worth very little. How do you tell them this without bruising their egos? Well, here’s exactly how you can tackle this catch-22 situation.

Do not judge. Understand first.

It is natural for your personal taste to intervene when reviewing someone’s creative output, but it should rarely happen. Let’s assume that you as a reader like a complex write-up, but your target audience like simpler stuff. The writer produces a copy but it is a mix of both styles which doesn’t work for your audience. What you do is not judge it and say “you’ve got it all wrong” or “you will have to redo it because you never understood my guidelines”. Instead ask questions like “what if we write it in a much simpler and direct manner” or “what if we use simpler vocabulary that resonates with the audience”. This will create an environment for the writer to think differently and keep the creative juices flowing.

Related: How to work with Colleagues with Conflicting Opinions

Ask questions

To complete a task in hand every person has a different approach and a perspective. When you have a creative copy before you, start by asking them to help you understand “why they did it in a particular way” or “why they think this work will appeal to the target audience”. From their answers you will get an idea about what drove them to walk the path they chose to. Now that you understand how they function, next time onward brief them more appropriately. You can then engage in a dialogue and ensure that a healthy communication are more than welcome and where different approaches are appreciated.

Give examples

Negative feedback to creative people is certainly challenging, especially since to translate what’s in your mind may not necessarily be seen in the output. If you don’t see any of what you asked for in the work done, then first gather all the examples you can before calling a meeting. Reference examples will help your team or creative agency to understand what you want.

Encourage them to express their views too so that a healthy concoction is ready for execution. Be a part of the process without being too nosey. Whether it is an agency or an in-house team, your job becomes easier if you keep track of what’s happening. Don’t wait for the project delivery. It may cost you those many man hours when it could have been taken care of much early in the process. At each interaction, focus entirely on the brand and audience and ask the team to stick as closely to the brief. Make sure you’re not buzzing them every other day though.

Related: 5 Ways to Resolve Co-worker Conflicts

Focus on work. Don’t get personal.

Stop saying ‘you’ all the time. Imagine if you are being told off with statements like “you don’t get it”, “you’ve chosen the wrong font”, “you don’t understand my instructions”, “you always do it wrong”, “why did I hire you in the first place”, “ABC would have done it better than you”. Hurts, doesn’t it? Well then, don’t say such things when you’re giving a feedback. You can say “I think this font is too big or too small and doesn’t create an impact”. Or “we can change the colour of the text”. Apologize if you have to, especially if you missed giving a certain instruction in the brief.  Do this. You will see the impact it will make.

Related: How to Constructively Handle Criticism at Work

Believe me, it is of utmost importance that you choose your words wisely lest the other person feels offended. In fact, document all the feedback whether you are in a meeting virtually or in-person. It will work as a reference document for the team. There clearly will be no way they will falter next time since this will find place in their pin-up board.

What do you think having read this blog? Isn’t it easier to give negative feedback to creative people without sounding mean?

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