Feedback and constructive criticism.
I’ve been tossing this subject around in my head for a while now—from all different angles, actually. As a writer/blogger, I face this issue frequently, especially on social media. A friend from high school and I recently had a good back-and-forth on this one. I always find it helpful to have others voice their thoughts or responses, even if I don’t fully agree with all of what they have to say. But sometimes, with a few days to chew on it, I find I either learned something significant from the feedback, or I remain strong in my resolve that I don’t agree. Either way, feedback and constructive criticism should not be something that we fear. In this case, it was helpful to hear another perspective on the use of social media (our particular topic). I won’t likely change my use of it based on this feedback, but I will be far more aware of how others use it differently, and that opens up my understanding of other people, if nothing else. And isn’t that a good thing?
I also have been thinking about feedback and constructive criticism from the perspective of someone who has offered it. Sometimes, people consider what we have to say, and sometimes, they get defensive, shut down, and quickly discard it simply because it’s inconvenient to hear or deal with. It’s amazing to me when I see several different people offer the same consistent feedback, and still, the input is quickly shoved away. Being defensive can sometimes simply mean we just had a bad day, but more often, it reveals a lack of maturity in us and a place where our growth is perhaps stunted at the moment. I have a few of those places in my life where I shove feedback out as fast as it is being offered. Those are places I can still choose to open myself up and grow. It’s never too late, really.
Now, when we offer feedback, to be fair, it’s not always going to be received and implemented. We can’t expect every person on this planet to see it our way, but when the same problems keep coming, and several people offer solutions that aren’t taken—or even considered—the result is simple: no growth.
Proverbs 23:9, Solomon speaking
Do not speak to fools, for they will scorn your prudent words.
It doesn’t matter what it is we do: spouse, parent, soccer coach, small or large business owner, administrative assistant, donut maker, teacher, truck driver, writer. It’s universal. If we want to get better at what we do, we have to listen to what people say. We don’t have to change everything about ourselves or how we do things, but we will never grow at all if we do life, our job, or even our families in a vacuum. We should be wary of surrounding ourselves only with people who flatter us and tell us what we want to hear. We should constantly tap into the strengths, experience, and wisdom of others.
Proverbs 13:10, Solomon speaking
Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.
Proverbs 13:20, Solomon speaking
Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.
As excited as I am to be publishing my first book (in just days!), hands down, the hardest part was the title. I test-marketed on social media, talked to my sister, consulted my pastor, and of course discussed with my editors. How do you choose something eye-catching for the shelves, easy-to-remember, not-too-long, but capturing the essence of the message and theme so that readers/buyers are neither misled nor disappointed? I would hate to think a reader would get to the end, or even the first few pages, and think: “That was it? I thought it was something altogether different.”
I think before all was said and done, 30 titles made the short list. The one I started out with was too edgy, even though it captured well where I was coming from: “Not Just Sucking in Air: Finding God’s Purpose in Each New Day.” I guess you can’t say “sucking” to a lot of people. I guess it’s off-putting. I get it on some level; I really do. Perhaps it is a degree short of palatable to word people. To me, this writing journey started at a place where sucking in air was all I thought I was capable of—and that, just barely. I had to write when I discovered joy again, when I realized God had so much more for me than just taking in oxygen every day, but on the days I only managed breathing, He was still there, not considering me a failure, cheering me on to greater purposes.
So when I opened this title question up to others, it was extremely vulnerable for me, considering what the original title signified for me. I received amazing amounts of good feedback. I learned that people enjoy being part of the process and weighing in. And it was very helpful, but it also tossed the book in about five different possible directions, each accurate in its own way. Some folks said, “shorter,” while others said, “longer.” Some wanted more narrowing in, while I wanted to open it up a bit wider without being too general. And what I discovered was that this writing thing is not an island. People are willing to help.
I also figured out that asking for help is a good exercise. Listening to constructive criticism is incredibly valuable. And humbling oneself is a way of simplifying the complicated.
Think about that for a second.
When our face is to the floor in humility and we are at our most open, there is tremendous clarity. When we hide behind our wall of pride, our view is greatly blocked.
Proverbs 11:2, Solomon speaking
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.
And I loved seeing the hearts inside the people contributing their voices to the title. Knowing so many of them personally, it was sweet to see how their offered words matched who they were at the very heart.
So while I made myself a little crazy contemplating each word, its position in the title, the nuance, the possible connotations (depending on where people are coming from), and the effect on different possible readership, it helped me zone in on what is really important and who my audience truly is. Why should they listen, if I can’t?
I grow so much as a writer and as a person each time I ask outside myself. I’m so grateful for others who participate in life with me, even when they have something challenging or hard to say (or for me to hear). God gifts us with so many people to speak into our lives. I love it when I remember to tap into that amazing, overflowing resource. I would have missed out greatly on the beauty of what others had to say had I not done this.
May our hearts remain teachable, grabbing wisdom from those who have gone before us and drawing on the riches of other perspectives. It can be very personal to open ourselves up in this way, but the greatest growth happens deep inside of us; it often starts in the place where someone says to us: “You might want to consider this__________.”
If we can’t even let them finish that sentence without getting defensive, or we are already formulating a response in our heads to counter it, we might have a growth problem.
Proverbs 18:12-13, Solomon speaking
Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.
To answer before listening-—that is folly and shame.