Day: December 14, 2022

Back to Feedback

Giving and receiving feedback can be tricky. Tact is paramount, and even the most salient point will fall on deaf ears if not delivered with respect and kindness. (See here and here.) However, the recipient must be genuinely open to feedback, otherwise the whole exercise is moot. 

I know a few short-fiction writers who ask for critique, but no matter how on point or how tactfully delivered the feedback may be, these authors end up incorporating none of it (and, in a few cases, end up aggrieved that there was any feedback to begin with). Of course, no one is expected to agree with every comment or adopt every suggestion, but feedback from seasoned writers usually illuminates legitimate issues that deserve some reflection. 

Recently, a similar thing happened with a junior faculty member in the context of technical writing. This was not the first such instance, either. This junior faculty member will ask for feedback on their writing, and not just from me, and then basically ignore all of it. In the most recent review cycle, I sent  only broad-strokes feedback but no sentence-level feedback because I’ve had the experience of it being ignored and I don’t have time to waste, but another colleague did provide detailed inline comments, and did a pretty good job of it, too. The junior faculty member ended up not incorporating a single suggestion, even the comments that were no brainers, such as suggestions regarding cumbersome sentences that desperately needed restructuring. Let’s not even talk about hyphenation or punctuation, something that most people are generally worse at than they think they are, but too few strive to improve (The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation is my sacred text).

I mean, why even ask for feedback if you don’t want to reflect upon what you’ve written? Not all feedback is equally valid, but assuming you’re asking people whom you trust, who get what you are trying to do, and who have experience in your genre (be it fiction or technical prose), why wouldn’t you consider their feedback seriously? 

Conversely, if you feel your work is beyond reproach, why do you waste people’s time? Do you expect they will come back and say, “This is perfection. No notes”? Is it some weird pull between thinking you ought to get feedback and also believing you are above feedback? I can sympathize with this sentiment, truly, but I usually have the presence of mind (or perhaps humility) to recognize when someone has pointed out a real issue. The goal should be to make the manuscript the best it can be. Having a healthy dose of ego is good, as it helps you stand your ground in the face of low-quality, bad-faith, or misguided feedback. But the ego shouldn’t be so large that it obscures avenues for real improvement simply because someone else has pointed them out. 

What say you, blogosphere? How’s your experience with giving/receiving feedback been?