4 Tips for Giving Writing Feedback to a Friend or Colleague

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A few months ago I was asked by a friend for feedback on an article she was submitting to a major publication. My friend has a much fancier writing resume than I do. She's written for – and been published in! –  other fancy magazines and major city newspapers.

I don't have all that great of writing credentials. (note: I have proudly written a number of articles for the excellent publication, True North Parenting magazine – and that's the only thing that actually gives me official writing credentials at all. Well, except this blog. And that's not exactly the same, as real as blogging is in it's own right.)

An Honored Request for Feedback

Nonetheless, my friend honored me with a request to give her feedback on this article she was submitting. My friend is very smart and she was really useful for me in talking through my recent business renaming and rebrand. So, I wanted to be especially helpful. I felt like she was giving me the opportunity to rebalance the Contribution tables in our friendship. I'm a huge believer in balanced Contribution in relationships. Plus, since she's so smart and all, I wanted her to think I'm smart, too.

Can you see where this is going maybe?

Feedback Hurl

She sends me her very personal essay-type article and guess what I did?

I feedbacked the hell out of it.

I made every grammar suggestion, every structure suggestion, and even praised every single part I thought was really well-written. When I was done, that article was damn decorated!

Don't try to tell me I don't do my fair share!

I was hurrying when I sent the feedback because I had to make it to my daughter's dance recital. No time to think before sending.

Mistake #1 (actually Mistake #2- #1 being the whole feedback approach overall).

As soon as I closed my laptop, I had the thought “How would I feel if I received that feedback?”

Thunk. Gurgle. Ugh…

I'd feel like crap.

Is This Really Necessary?

Even more importantly, did she really need all of that feedback? Much of it was stylistic – she structures sentences differently than I do. Grammar isn't hard and fast anymore. I got into teacher mode. Seven years of grading college student speech outlines and essays just walked right into this simple, friendly feedback request and took over.

My friend was reasonably polite about the whole thing. I got an email saying something about my feedback being the most extensive of all that she received. She noted that we must have significant “style differences” but she appreciates my input. It was fine. She was nice about it. But I felt like total dog doo-doo.

I sent her a sappy apologetic email and left her a voice mail that was even more desperate, apologizing for my idiocy, telling her how much I really liked the article (which I did!)

We recovered okay from the whole thing but it haunts me a bit – and I learned a huge lesson from it. Maybe it'll be helpful to you as you venture into collaborative and supportive situations with colleagues.

Good Feedback Doesn't Have to Hurt

In a nutshell, here are the principles I use in giving feedback to colleagues and friends now:

  1. Ask them what kind of feedback they want. Are they looking for my sense or feeling when reading something or looking at their website or whatever their request? Or, do they want me to get detailed and nitty gritty?
  2. Stay seated firmly in empathic position. From where are they coming on this? This project isn't about me. It's about them and their soul-driven goals. Start there and end there. Any other feedback isn't relevant.
  3. Have someone else read my feedback before I send it along. I can be very direct. I can lose the “feeling” part of things relatively easily, especially when I am in my own “zone” of Contribution. I love playing there and it takes on a life of its own. It is really helpful to have the perspective of a neutral-ish party to tell me how they would feel if they got this feedback from me.
  4. Pay special attention the way I say things. Actually, I am really good at this and tend to do a good job of it (except sometimes when I feel it's not getting through, then I can get a bit too pushy). But it serves to say it here and remember it always. So often, it is how you say something that matters.

When I think of giving feedback on things that are in my areas of Contribution, I often think of this quote by Marianne Williamson: (perspective note: I translate “God” here to mean a general sense of the Divine, however it is experienced by an individual)

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.' We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” (A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”, Harper Collins, 1992. From Chapter 7, Section 3]) – Thanks WikiQuote, for housing this quote.

Feel Good Feedback that Helps, Too

It's not so much that I think that giving feedback is “my light” and that I will bring insecurity to others, it's just that I do believe in bringing brilliance, wherever I can. Brilliance like light, energy, fire, power, strength, brains. When asked for feedback, I want to give that.

That said, brilliance is a broad-reaching, multi-faceted thing. It's about light, energy, fire, power, strength, and brains, yes. It's also about relationships, support, love, fostering growth and building brilliance in others. In service of that whole package, maybe I don't have to say everything that crosses my mind in the feedback opportunity. That's the lesson I learned.

I'm way better at feedback now – just in case you ever plan to ask me for any.

What about you? What guides your feedback approach? Any tips I should add to my list?