I’ve had the privilege of reviewing two works this week, one a manuscript and the other an academic assignment. Both very different, but both very important to the individuals. I enjoyed reading both, but felt a bit out of practice when it came to giving appropriate feedback. The responsibility!

It got me thinking about my days gone by in the corporate world. Appraisals, assessments and the damage done to the potential of colleagues under careless words in the name of ‘feedback.’

Feedback has the potential to make someone’s confidence sink or soar. Work reviews aside, it always strikes me that it is a hugely brave thing of anyone to ask someone to comment on their work. But what is the alternative if we want to improve? Better to have someone you trust pick over the bones of grammar, look at flow, sense, substance first. It is so tricky to review your own work, since you read what you mean to be there, and not necessarily what is actually there. A way of trying to avoid this, is to read anything you write out loud. Painful? Perhaps, but it’s a great trick.

Anyway. I digress. So, this week, the joy was in reading but the responsibility was in distilling my thoughts in a way that would be helpful to the writer. If it isn’t helpful – then what’s the point. All feedback is subjective – it is an opinion (except perhaps on matters of grammar, but even that’s up for debate too). Feedback is a personal opinion; it isn’t fact. Psychologically speaking, it says as much about the giver, because we frame things according to our own values, beliefs, judgements. In the appropriate lingo, we project through the mechanism of feedback. As such, the recipient doesn’t have to accept the comments. You keep some power that way!

We come to the point that feedback is a gift, and the packaging makes all the difference. If you can take the time to wrap your gift nicely, then the messasge inside has the potential to be well-received, and valued. Wrap it carelessly and it has the potential to damage.

Far too often reviews are careless, bruising, destructive. There is no skill in that. Anyone can unleash a torrent of vitriol, projecting judgements. There is real craft in making an honest, responsible review, without shirking any difficult messages.

This is what I wanted to achieve this week, and from the comments that I had back, I managed it. I gave two separate gifts of feedback.