Accepting feedback that is negative can be a shock to the system. But if you’re able to assess it dispassionately, there’s a lot to be gained.
Every day I work with entrepreneurs who are writing books to boost their businesses. And every day I reorganise chapters, recommend they write new content, and chop their word count.
For the most part, my clients have taken my feedback on board (at least, after the initial shock wore off). But I never really understood what it was like to receive the ‘constructive’ feedback I was dishing out until I wrote my own book.
Four days after sending the first draft of my book off to my editor I received an email:
“Your book needs quite a bit of work, more than I expected… Is there a good time to call you today?”
Ouch. I took a deep breath, picked up the phone, and asked her to hit me with her worst.
“Some of your content’s very dry and dull, you’re overly verbose and there’s quite a bit of repetition. All in all, I don’t think you follow your own advice.”
Given my book was geared towards teaching entrepreneurs how to write an awesome book, this was not the feedback I wanted. So what did I do? And what can you do to to remain gracious when accepting feedback in your business?
1. Take some space
It can be difficult to accept feedback when the wound is still fresh. (In my case, I’d only drafted my book the week before and hadn’t had the opportunity to review it myself with fresh eyes. Being that close to the project made it hard for me to see the issues she pointed out.)
So take some space. Put your project down for a couple of weeks and focus on something else – another client, a marketing campaign, or even a holiday. When you return to your project you’ll be able to objectively evaluate the feedback and decide whether or not to take it on board.
2. Focus on the big-picture goal
No, it wasn’t nice to hear that my book needed more work. However, my goal was to use this book as a tool to establish myself as an industry authority. As a professional writer and editor, it had to be good.
If I had just wanted to publish a book, rather than a great one, I could have ignored the feedback and published my original draft. However, my goal was to write a great book, and staying focused on that goal meant I could recognise that this was feedback that would help me achieve that goal, rather than being a personal attack.
3. Remember they’re on your side
Getting constructive feedback hurts. The key thing to remember is that, generally speaking, the people giving that kind of feedback are on your side. They want you to succeed.
My editor genuinely wanted to support me in writing a great book, and knowing that made it far easier to swallow the difficult news.
4. Be solution-oriented
Rather than getting stuck in the criticism, I thought about the solution. I asked, “Is this something you can fix, or would it be better for me to let the book sit for a month or two before revisiting it?”
She advised me to let it sit for a month or two, which I did. (Actually, I let it sit for five – you know what small businesses are like!) When I revisited it, I was then able to look at it as though it was one of my clients’ manuscripts rather than my own, and did a very aggressive edit myself.
5. Take it with a grain of salt
With the exception of client work, in most personal and professional projects you are in charge. One of the things I tell my editing clients is that they don’t have to agree with all of the changes or suggestions I make. They are free to take or leave my feedback but the key is understanding why I gave that feedback so they can make an educated decision about it.
In my case, I agreed with a lot of my editor’s feedback. It led me to cut two chapters from my book and most of my original examples (about 9,000 words, or a quarter of my manuscript). However, I didn’t agree with all of her changes, even though I understood why she made them, and chose not to keep them in my final draft.
Although it might be difficult to hear, constructive feedback is often a blessing in disguise and can help you improve your work, yourself and your business. Keeping the above five tips in mind will help you make the most of it.
Are you good at accepting constructive criticism? How do you ensure you’re in the right frame of mind when accepting feedback to take it on board?