How to Make Space for Effective Feedback

Whenever you create something new, at some point, you'll need to offer it up for critique. Having someone else review your work or your idea helps you "zoom out," exposing flaws you can't see when you're too close to the work. The people giving feedback can offer suggestions based on their unique perspectives and experiences, highlighting elements you hadn't recognized before. Those giving critique can also challenge your assumptions about your work, ask questions to help you articulate your goals, and let you know when you're on the right track.

But critique isn't often taught formally, and it can be difficult both from a business perspective and a human one. If criticism is offered without a clear purpose and boundaries, it can be confusing or personally wounding, or just not effective.

Our creativEcosphere program, which just finished an 8-month pilot program focusing on entrepreneurs, builds upon the value of formal critique. In each session of the program, at least one of the participants gets the opportunity to sit in "the hot seat," sharing their work in progress and receiving feedback from the rest of the group. This format is designed to help participants talk through and refine their work while learning from one another. During each hot seat session, a Connect the Grey facilitator guides the process, managing the flow of conversation and encouraging a healthy dialogue.

Here's why that structured time for critique is important:

It allows groups to establish trust.

Sharing an idea or piece of work that you've poured your time, labor, and creativity into can be terrifying. Asking people to dig into your precious work and tear it apart is even scarier. To open yourself up to that judgment, you have to trust that people are being honest and thoughtful with their criticism, and that they ultimately want you to succeed. Having dedicated time for critique helps establish that crucial trust, as participants get used to both presenting and offering feedback. The environment is one of both challenge and support: Everyone empathizes with the person in the "hot seat" because they've been there, too. In a controlled setting, a facilitator can remind everyone to remain respectful and to keep all ideas confidential. Rules like "what happens in this room stays in this room" help people feel safe and trusting enough to invite the critique they need.

It separates the work from the person.

Having someone look you in the eyes and criticize work you've spent time and effort on can feel like an attack. People identify strongly with their jobs and the work that they do, so it's hard not to take questions and suggested changes personally. When the context for a critique is established as specific to the project at hand, that's a reminder to everyone involved that the feedback is not meant to be personal. Constructive criticism also helps each individual gain perspective for themselves, and take a step back from their own work. That separation allows people to work on their business instead of in their business, detaching from the day-to-day details so that they can think strategically.

It helps close the loop: not just what is and isn't working, but where to go next.

When feedback is offered informally, it tends to be quick, observational, and limited, describing the idea or project as it exists already. Especially when everyone's on a tight schedule, advice might come with little direction on how to implement it. Having focused time for critique helps you go beyond the surface, allowing for a thorough discussion of why something works or why it needs improvement. Each person can explain what they're trying to achieve, and those giving feedback can offer suggestions, explain their opinions, and debate alternatives. The result is a clearer action plan for the next phase of the project.

To emphasize the critique space as structured, respectful, and purposeful, you can create and post a formal list of rules. Learn more about our critique-based creativEcosphere program and "the hot seat" in our post here!