Imagine for a second that you are extremely passionate about gardening. You live for landscaping, dream of daisies, and fixate on ferns. You have toiled endlessly in your backyard to create the perfect oasis; a nexus of color and beauty that is the envy of everyone on your block. So impressed are your friends and neighbors by your creation that one of them asks you to do the same for their lowly patch of land. You jump at the chance and make quick work of setting up another backyard retreat. You are dizzy with excitement as you finish staging all of the plants, decorations, and flowers to give your neighbor a preview before the final planting begins. This is only a formality because, let’s face it, although you didn’t invent gardening, you are pretty much Van Gough with a garden hoe. You rush your neighbor outside for the grand unveiling. You flex your back so that the inevitable pats don’t catch you off-guard. You reveal your grand creation only to hear in reply…
“Hmm, are you sure that the tulips should go over there?”
I think we have all been here at one time or another. Something we poured our heart and soul into is met with an “eh” response.
Sometimes people downright don’t like what you’ve done, and have many opinions on how it can be improved. Sometimes they “don’t know why they don’t like it, but they know they don’t like it.” After all, this is your life’s work, your passion, how could someone else have an opinion that matters?
Well, when you think about it …it was their backyard, shouldn’t they be happy with it? And maybe the tulips would look better by the fountain.
Criticism is one of the hardest things to handle, especially in a professional respect. Many of us have strived for years to become as close to an expert in our field as we can. It is always hard to hear that something we have put out there isn’t loved and adored, as is, by everyone that sees/reads/hears it.
The instinct seems to be to put up a barrier and become defensive when someone has a differing opinion of the way something should be executed. It sometimes feels like we’re being shamed, or being forced to admit that we did something wrong. But guess what? Things are seldom perfect the first time. That’s why there are erasers, backspace buttons, and white out (for you veterans in the audience).
Criticism (good criticism anyway) serves a purpose. It brings in an outsider’s perspective. Maybe you were too close to the project to see it. Maybe something could just be tweaked a small bit. Maybe your neighbor is deathly allergic to roses. In any case, criticism and feedback can be utilized to create a finished product that is superior to what it was in the beginning.
I will admit that not all feedback should be taken and implemented without a thought. Sometimes criticism isn’t informative at all (see the aforementioned “I don’t know why I don’t like it, I just don’t like it). Sometimes it is just one person pushing their personal preferences into a project. Most of the time however, someone has a useful outlook that could be used improve the project. It is imperative to lower your shield and talk through what the criticism is, not just stare blankly at the other person trying to mentally drill a hole through their head because they are “attacking” your hard work.
True expertise comes in taking feedback, sorting through it, and finding out what should be implemented and what shouldn’t. Seeing things from a different perspective can be liberating and infuse new life into a project. If there is a specific reason why something was done a certain way, than it is okay to say so (“I placed those flowers over there because they require partial sun. If I move them over there they will die a fiery death.”). Feedback should be an open dialogue for the improvement of a project, not a competition to see how aggressively protective you can be about your work.
Criticism serves a purpose. First drafts are seldom perfect. Start looking at feedback as a way to step back from your work and get some input on something you may have missed. I am willing to bet the end result will be better for it.
“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
– Winston Churchill