Is There a Place for Negative Feedback?

Everyone can be creative. Everyone can make art.

And art doesn’t just mean sculpture, writing, painting, dance, and song. Even developing a well-organized, useful spreadsheet is, in itself, a creative act. Yet, I know so many people who believe they aren’t creative because some idiot jerk, one time, told them what they weren’t and that what they were making was silly, childish and a waste of time.

That’s why I was surprised when, during my performance review, my boss encouraged me to give more criticism during team meetings.

Perhaps it’s my improv background coupled with my own personal beliefs, but I often try to avoid giving that type of feedback. I much prefer yes and-ing what’s presented so that we can work as a team to achieve a stronger end result.

Bad Magic working as a team
Photo Credit: Brandon Rice

As far as creative pursuits are concerned, I believe it’s important to create a space where we all feel comfortable taking risks, which makes feedback much more likely to be accepted when it’s needed.

The other reason I avoid giving negative feedback comes from a place of fear.

A lot of my coworkers are graphic artists, and while I’m trying to learn more about design, I am afraid to pipe up if I don’t have a solution in mind. Whereas with improv I feel comfortable giving feedback because I have achieved a level of expertise, when I give feedback to my coworkers,  I worry that if I suggest something stupid, then I’m the bad guy for creating a problem. And it’s not just that I’m the bad guy, I’m the dumb, bad guy because I don’t know how to solve the problem I created.

Any slob can sit around and say they don’t like something. Expressing the deeper reason why and proposing a possible solution is so much harder, yet so much more helpful.

The key, as my boss explained, is that if you don’t have a solution, deliver the feedback by setting up a challenge.

To use improv as an example, if you feel you’re your team’s group games aren’t fun, instead of saying, “I hate our games,” you can ask, “how can we make our group games more fun?” That way, you turn a negative comment into a positive challenge that everyone can build on by yes and-ing each other.

via Inspirationde
via Inspirationde

What I realized was even though I’m hesitant to give my teammates feedback without a solution, it isn’t always my job to have one. If I had all the answers, then I might as well have their job. It’s just as important to be the one who recognizes the problem and guides the team towards positive steps to solve it, as it is to be the one who actually has the solution.

After all, if we just sit around and congratulate each other for everything we do well and forget the rest, how can we ever hope to improve?

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