Filtering Solid Critiques from Personal Opinion.

I recent asked what questions individuals might have about critique and their design process. Andrew Norcross asked a question that both Adam Connor and I have heard quite a bit.

I will start by saying this… There are going to be times when people make feedback/critique personal, if it hasn’t happened yet, it will. This is why intent is such a foundational element in critique. To be fair there are going to be times when someone isn’t trying to be an a-hole, but how they are presenting their feedback comes across that way.

So how do we determine when someone is sincere or not? And what do we do with the feedback we get (good intent or bad)?

Saint or Sinner

When in person I have often found that by watching body language and tone of voice along side of the feedback being provided I can tell if they are being difficult or making something personal and thus come to a conclusion quicker. When the individual is not in the same room and we are left to video and/or phone it can be a bit harder to determine intent, this means it is crucial to reserve judgement(even if they don’t) until you have better context.

I always advise that as you start to work with your teams and clients that you make time to do a couple of things.

  1. During project kick offs make sure to take the time to establish where critique fits into the process/project plan. If needed educate the teams what the purpose of critique is and how it should be facilitated.

2. Observe how team members and clients communicate in various scenarios. This will provide insights into how they communicate, their personalities, and how they approach conflict.

Doing these wont keep people from being a-holes, but they will help in understanding intent earlier on in the conversation allowing you to have a more informed response.

What to do with what you get

While we can’t control how people will provide feedback(or respond to critique) we can focus on what we can control… How we respond and what we do with the feedback we are provided. Here are a couple things to keep in mind.

  1. Don’t take it personal, even if someone else seems to be going there.
    There will come a time(if it hasn’t already) where someone is being difficult and making their feedback a personal jab. There will also be where times they are just in a crabby mood, or are a jerk to everyone.
Regardless of the situation it is important to remember that critique is about understanding and improvement, not judgement.

2. Even if you know that someone else is wrong, or in the wrong, take their insights into consideration.
I know you are probably thinking “What!?!?! You can’t be serious”… I know… Why even give that a-hole the time of day? If they wanted their feedback to be taken into consideration they should have approached giving feedback differently. While this is true their feedback can have insights that we can benefit from. take note of the feedback they provide, thank them for it, and move on. After the meeting has ended revisit the feedback, seperate it from the difficult person(if possible) and look for any useful insights.

This approach is not easy, but the more we can do to keep feedback focused on the product the better chances we have of determining who is being helpful, who isn’t and how we can make valuable use of the feedback we get regardless or the person’s intent.


Discussing Design has more insights and tips for dealing with difficult people and situations, you can find it here https://amzn.com/149190240X

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