I have been an artist at Root Inc. for 20 years, and for 20 years people have been telling me how I’m doing my job wrong.

That may sound awful, and might even deter some folks from doing what I do, but I need other opinions and feedback on my work. In fact, asking for feedback is a crucial part of our Learning Map® visual development process.

Here’s the thing. While it’s important to ask for feedback at work, it’s equally important to process that feedback. You might not realize this, but actively and purposefully absorbing feedback – and not feeling offended or defensive – is a skill. As with any skill, strengthening it requires practice.

Absorbing Feedback Requires Having the Right Conversations

When we present a new visual to a client, we first ask them to tell us what resonates. People instinctively want to address what’s wrong, so keeping them focused on the positive takes some gentle facilitation. We want them to identify what tells their story well — it could be a single vignette or a label or an overall theme — because we want to keep those ideas in the next iteration. It’s exciting when parts of the visual ring true with them!

Then we flip the conversation, and the feedback is even more meaningful. What’s not working? What did we get wrong? What parts feel false or won’t resonate with the intended audience?

These conversations, focused on the visual, can help them to see where they’re not aligned, because each person will have their own version of their story. This process guides them into telling a cohesive and aligned story, which becomes clearer with each iteration.

Absorbing Feedback Empowers You to Create Something Better

Artists are human. It’s uncomfortable to expose something you’ve created to criticism, especially after you’ve spent hours processing, experimenting, and drawing to bring it to life.

Being defensive is a natural reaction. Even with years of experience, there is a pang of frustration when a client “doesn’t get” something in a drawing.

This is where the importance of actively absorbing the feedback comes in. To do so requires stepping back, putting aside presumptions, and exploring the intent of the feedback. We explain to our clients, “We are not the experts in your business. You are the experts.” What we really mean is, only you can tell your story. As illustrators, our role is to listen, translate, and replay that story through a drawing, changing it until the picture tells the story accurately and in an engaging way. The key is to think of their feedback not as a list of changes but as a list of opportunities to revisit and improve the work. Revising with this spirit makes finding solutions to their suggestions spontaneous, exciting, and unexpected.

I’ve learned that this mindset is applicable with every form of feedback. It’s key to be open to receiving feedback at work, in personal relationships, parenting, writing, and sports, for example. We need to go beyond simply being vulnerable to feedback by addressing how to channel our natural defense mechanisms into something constructive. Approaching criticism this way is like a muscle that needs to be trained. Once it’s strong, it speeds up the iterative process, establishes trust, and turns each roadblock into an opportunity.

December 11, 2018


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