The Art of Receiving Feedback

Most of us love giving our opinion on things, like leaving reviews on items we bought online, places we visited or services we used; especially when we were happy with them. And yes, some people surely enjoy living a bad review, too. Both good and bad reviews are helpful to other people interested in the same products, places or services; but reviews will also be useful also to those who offer the goods in order to improve on their quality or celebrate an achievement. Well, the same applies to receiving feedback on our writing.

Feedback can be one of the most effective ways to becoming better at writing (and anything you do, for that matter).

Of course, the effectiveness of feedback depends on how well it is given, for if it is offered in a skilful way, it can be extremely helpful and easily accepted. We call this “constructive feedback”. On the other hand, “destructive criticism”, which is feedback given without any positive advice on how to improve things, can harm the self-esteem of the receiving person and will not lead to any positive outcome. Yet this post is not about giving feedback, but rather about receiving it so you can learn how to make the most of it.

Picture from flip.it

As I explain in my book (Chapter 4, Section 4.8), a very good way to avoid receiving either too little or too much feedback, or either too generic or overwhelmingly detailed feedback is to know when to ask for it throughout your writing process, what specifically to ask for, and whom to ask. At the stage of an early draft, what you really want to know is if your content is appropriate, enough and relevant. At this stage, you do not have to ask your supervisor for feedback; a fellow student or colleague can help. At the stage of middle draft, when you need to make sure that your ideas are clear, coherent and well-structured, you can ask for feedback from a more experienced person, like your supervisor or a postdoc. And finally, at the stage of the final draft, you need feedback from an expert, that is your supervisor, to check if the overall content is correct, accurate and comprehensive.

Now, there might be cases when you do not agree with (or do not like) the feedback you receive, and you might get into your defence mode thinking of your next response. Try to control yourself, take a moment and a breath before you say something. Make sure you 100% listen and understand the feedback to avoid misjudgement and unnecessary bad reactions. Always keep in mind that one’s opinion comes from their perception of things and it might not be right, maybe because they do not know or understand fully the situation. Help them by giving them all the necessary information and background, so their feedback is more accurate. 

If you are angry about the feedback you received, avoid conflict by repeating the discussion again on a later date. I always recommend not to take feedback personally. Also, if you are still unsure about the validity of the feedback you received from one person, ask also for feedback from others. This approach, though, might end up confusing you, if you receive many different opinions. So be careful with this one, and always try to ask feedback from the most appropriate person, as we mentioned earlier, and someone you trust and appreciate. 

Picture from Shutterstock

However, the best way of avoiding feelings like anger and uncertainty is asking questions to clarify things, like specific examples that could help you better understand the meaning of the feedback. And in order to ask good questions, you have to be a good listener. Take notes if needed, summarise and reflect on what you are hearing, and ask for concrete solutions if you are unsure how to proceed after receiving comments on a piece of your work. It is better to get all the answers and advice you need at the time you receive feedback than wondering later and getting frustrated. 

Finally, show your appreciation to the person that gives you feedback. Giving feedback can be tough and stressful, and it takes time, so even if you don’t agree or like it, make sure to thank the person for it and make the process easier for both of you. This way you encourage them to repeat the process with you, and feel more comfortable to give you more honest -and hence more constructive and useful- feedback. However, most likely they will feel more appreciated if you actually take their feedback into consideration and make use of it in order to improve your work!

I hope this is helpful, but if you have any questions, do not hesitate to get in touch.

Take care!

PS. If you are looking for feedback on your research paper writing, join our 3-day Facebook Challenge – Getting Started with you Research Paper, and receive instant advice by the expert!

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