We all know that negative feedback can sometimes slow us down--or even stop us in our tracks--when embarking on a new project. Criticism from a respected friend or colleague, even if it's well-meaning, can get magnified in our heads and send us into spirals of "I'm not good enough." But what if there was a very different force at work? What if early positive feedback also had the power to hold you back?

A recent personal experience has me wondering--and noticing--how susceptible I am to external feedback. The quick story is this: I started a creative writing project with a partner. As I sent over a first rough draft, I received some negative feedback. I reworked it and posted another version that was somehow worse in my partner's eyes. It was so off-track that she opted out of the project--fearing damage to her professional reputation by association with this piece of work. Ouch.

But something interesting happened. I had a little time to reflect and look at what I'd done from my partner's perspective. While harsh, she was right in some meaningful ways, and it motivated me to redouble my energy and focus. I wanted this project to be better, and I was willing to work for it. The next day after doing some more work on this document (things were moving fast), I shared a draft with my now-retired mentor. Her feedback was very different: "Looks great, very minor changes." I felt gratified at first. This person's positivity felt good. What happened next? I put the project aside and started doing something else. After that validation, I lost my motivation to continue working on it.

Noticing the swing of reactions and the impact on my motivation to finish an important project made me think: Perhaps it's not negative feedback we should fear--but positive feedback. Being soothed early on is especially dangerous. It's hard to roll up your sleeves and work hard on something you're being told is good enough "as is."

On your next project, ask for both positive and negative feedback from everyone who takes a look at your work; but, above all specific feedback. If you know what specific things you're doing well, you can repeat those things in future work. If you know what specific things you're not doing well, you can fix them and make sure to not fall into those errors again in the future. Seeking out somebody who will give you the hard feedback you need to improve is a big priority.

The goal is to notice the kind of reactions you're getting and seek a balance. If you're getting a lot of, "this is great, minor comments," find someone who will point out the holes and motivate you to fill them in--it's the only way you can grow.  

Published on: Mar 28, 2018