Giving feedback to creative individuals is difficult. I would know. I spent 4 years working at a creative digital marketing agency, and I played both roles: the account handler responsible for communicating with the client, and the creative individual you wanted to retain some semblance of creative control.

The truth is, providing feedback to creatives is extremely difficult. We don't just like our work--we love it. It's part of us. We are attached to it (whether we like to admit that we are or not), and so speaking to us in a way that suddenly make us feel uninspired can be an art.

At the same time, since I also played the opposite role, providing feedback (especially when things are time sensitive) in a way that doesn't cause a creative person to decide to stop caring about their work, is also an art--and not one to be taken lightly.

What I have learned over the years is that both sides have very different needs. And in order to provide helpful feedback, it's imperative you realize what a creative person needs to hear in order to welcome your criticism.

If you are in the business of managing creatives, try these approaches on for size:

1. Validate first, critique second.

A creative individual will be ten times more likely to take your criticism seriously if you first acknowledge the hard work they've done.

"You know, I really liked what you did with this. Actually, my favorite part was....".

Some people consider this "babying." The truth is, it's not. And the reason is because doing great creative work is difficult. Imagine if you had poured your heart into something. All you want is for someone to say, "Good job," before tearing it apart.

So, before you run down your list of edits, tell them you liked what they did. They will be much more willing to listen to you.

2. Have the original creative brief handy.

There's nothing worse than for an argument between an account executive and a creative to break out over "who said what."

When you're providing feedback, keep things to the point and have a reference. Don't leave it up to, "Well she said this during that meeting two weeks ago." Have your creative brief in hand and point to specific points. This will make the conversation much, much easier to have.

3. Ask questions before jumping to conclusions.

Instead of coming in hot with feedback, it can be a good idea to instead ask why things are the way they are: "Why did you put the menu in the upper right-hand corner? Why did you choose those colors?"

The key here, however, is to do so with a tone of genuine curiosity. If you start asking, "Why? Why? Why?" in a rapid-fire tone, you're going to start battles. There's no need. Just ask in a nice and respectful way, and if anything, give the creative individual a moment to get excited about sharing and explaining their work.

4. Don't be afraid to have fun.

I never understood why people treated office environments, especially ones that are supposed to hold some amount of creativity, so seriously.

Great work doesn't happen in a concrete box. It happens between people who enjoy working with each other, and have fun doing work collaboratively.

Even if you aren't playing the role of a creative, it's important that you bring that same sort of open energy to the table. Your creative partners shouldn't feel like you're the "stiff suit" that walks around maintaining order. They will be far more willing to work with you (and take your feedback to heart) if you can work to speak their language.

It's ok to get people laughing and having fun. In fact, the more you can do that, the more likely your teammates will be to want to do good by you.

5. Know what battles to pick.

And finally, the most important thing to remember when providing feedback to creatives is that you can't win every battle. Just like they have to let go a tad to appease a client, you have to let go sometimes and let them maintain some sense of original style.

The reason is because the opportunity cost for not doing so is far more detrimental. If you try to win every battle, one of two things will happen. Either they will completely stop working for you (as in they'll quit), or they will turn into a robot that follows orders to a T. As much as you think you want the latter, you don't.

What you want is some middle ground. You want a creative individual to feel like they can go off the beaten path to find really great solutions, but to also respect the process and know when to bring things back. And if you try to win every battle, this level of trust will never be built.

There needs to be some give and take in the relationship.

Published on: Feb 10, 2017
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