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The art of giving and receiving feedback

Gill Wildman is a workshop associate for the Creative Enterprise Programme and has delivered programmes in Jordan and Egypt. Through Upstarter, her microbusiness incubation service, she shows people how to give and receive great feedback. Recently she designed and hosted a webinar for the Creative Enterprise Programme workshop associates around the world which explored the concept of peer feedback.

Gill Wildman

“Feedback is my gold dust” is a phrase I use a lot. As a designer, I use feedback every day in my work. It’s my reality check. It’s the eyes and experiences of others that helps me see much more than I can alone. It’s that point where I know that there are many questions about what I am doing that need answering. It’s that great moment when I have produced just enough work that it needs someone else to tell me what they think.

For new ideas, feedback ensures that the idea is wanted and that it is worth doing. In my world feedback is common practice, for others it’s not so common. The challenge for many entrepreneurs is that they don’t always know the difference between something that they love and something that people want or need (or pay for!). The process of giving and receiving feedback is the best way to get there.

I’m talking about everyday, interpersonal, business-critical feedback. The kind of feedback that helps an entrepreneur make progress on their business. Creative entrepreneurs are increasingly understanding the value that feedback brings to the product development process, or in how the business presents itself through a proposition, how it engages with customers through a service, or how it speaks to people through a brand.

Feedback in the Creative Enterprise Programme

In the Creative Enterprise Programme, we - the workshop associates - are engaged in a process of helping creative entrepreneurs reconsider their business ideas. For some participants, this is a challenging and potentially threatening action to take, especially if they have been working in their business for a while, or the thought of making changes feels difficult and unwelcome.

Culturally, there are different attitudes to how feedback is given. Some participants are comfortable with criticism. Whilst this may work for them in day-to-day interactions, in a programme with lots of new people, criticism or feedback can make them become protective of their ideas. In an environment where we are trying to get people to be open to new possibilities, it can close conversations down.

Storyteller-researcher Brené Brown talks about how vulnerability is required for creativity and innovation. As workshop associates, we need to create a safe space for participants to be open to other people’s reflections about their business by setting rules and sharing approaches to doing this.

So, how does it work? Well, it sounds simple, but there is a knack. At the heart, is the art of giving and receiving.

Giving feedback

Make sure that you give your feedback in a way that is thoughtful and respectful. It isn’t just enough to say you don’t like something - say what it is about it. Don’t focus on what is wrong either. Doing that can be demoralizing for people who have strived hard.

Talk about the effort they have put in, the process they are going through, or the final thing and what you can see in it. Then, if you need to, talk about the things that do not work so well.

Talk about the ‘thing’ and not the person. For example, designers talk about what works, as in what is good about something; and what doesn’t, as in what needs to change in order for the thing to work. Be precise about what you mean: if you give a score, make sure that it is clear what the number refers to. Futurist Annette Mees talks about two simple questions to unlock great answers: what should I change, and what should I keep?

Receiving feedback

Asking for feedback is the first step. Framing the feedback you need is the second step. Do you want to know what people think about a new idea? Do you want them to think about it alongside possible competitors? Do you want them to explore how it feels to use it? If you don’t want people to focus on the part you haven’t finished, tell them.

Many of us have had the experience of poor feedback, where the person giving it hasn’t thought much about how they do so. They may have been over-harsh or critical about the end product, without recognizing the days, weeks, months of work. This can hurt or discourage you from proceeding. It’s important (especially if you know that this person has a propensity to do just that) to develop a thick skin, and to divert them to answering the questions you have prepared for them to give you the feedback you need.

Take whatever people give you in the form of feedback with generosity and good grace. Don’t get defensive if they don’t like what you have spend long hours on. Listen for what they mean, not so much what they say. And always, always, always thank them.


Gill Wildman

Gill Wildman is a Creative Enterprise Programme Workshop Associate, based in the UK.