Beyond the Barf: Why a Reaction is Your Ultimate Feedback Guide

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Barf

That was all it said in bright red pen.

While I’m all for blunt feedback, I was a little startled to see this as the only comment beside the paragraph. Sitting there, trying to break down what barf meant, I realized, it wasn’t the word that startled me. After all, it didn’t say, “barf, Lindsay. You’re a horrible human! Blah!” Rather, it was the lack of a why behind the barf. No reason, no explanation, nothing as to why the reaction.

Fortunately, the client and I had a chat about what “barf” meant and we were able to change direction and land on content that effectively met their needs, without the barf.

However, this got me thinking about where in our lives we can improve our own feedback, and not just for content. This, ultimately, comes down to understanding your emotional reaction, which allows you to provide more impactful feedback for moving forward.

So, how can we begin to provide productive feedback?

Strong Reactions Tell a Story

Feedback starts with understanding your reaction. I’ve always said that a strong reaction – whether positive or negative – is the perfect reaction as it means something has clearly tapped into an emotion. The trick now is to identify why the strong reaction. Your story behind your reaction is what needs to be isolated in order to break the emotion down and move forward with tangible changes.

Sometimes this means having a 1:1 conversation, sometimes it simply means journaling your thoughts so you can identify what your reaction means to you. Once you understand why you have the reaction –  what’s the story behind it – you can then provide feedback to either counter the negative or enhance the positive direction.

Questions to help you identify your initial reaction:

  • What was your initial emotion? (“OMG! Yes! This is all the awesome!”, “Well, this doesn’t suck”, “Yuck! I hate this more than blue cheese!”)
  • Does this align with the reaction you were expecting to have? Why/why not?
  • Why this reaction? What specific things (actions, words, phrases, images, etc.) made you react this way?

Emotion Informs What to Tangibly Focus On

Total transparency – barf was feedback from an engineer. When the client and I delved past the initial reaction, we discovered that the content was just slightly too emotional without enough technical heft. What we did agree on, though, was that even engineering companies must incorporate some form of emotion in their marketing and sales as people buy with emotion…and justify with logic. Revisions were simply a matter of finding the balance between the emotion and the technical needs. Without having a conversation with the client about what barf meant, I would not have known to add more heft to the technical. I could have assumed they just didn’t like the wording itself and wanted it worded differently. By pulling out details beyond the initial emotional reaction, we identified the golden nuggets of content that already worked well and those that didn’t.

Questions to help you understand your reaction:

  • What met your expectations?
  • What fell short of your expectations? Why/how?
  • What is the logic that supports your reaction?
  • Was any information misinterpreted?
  • For content or other creative work:
    • Was the content too technical, sounding like robots wrote it?
    • Was the content too much “marketing fluff” without providing any real substance or value?

Clear Feedback Ensures Fewer Hiccups

When we’re able to get clarity as to why we react a certain way, we are able to provide better direction in how to move forward, typically resulting in fewer hiccups the next time.

What’s important to remember is that it’s okay if you don’t like what’s in front of you, particularly when it comes to creative work. Sometimes, you just don’t know what you want until you see what you don’t want. So, give yourself a break if barf is the reaction on a first draft. It’s when it remains the reaction after multiple revisions that it becomes an issue.

Once you understand your initial reaction, you can then dive deeper, looking to give real, tangible actions in your feedback. In other words, your feedback has a very clear directive on how to move forward. This ensures that next time will be more aligned with your expectations, minimizing the need for not-so-lovely reactions.

Questions to help you provide clearer feedback:

  • What information is missing?
  • What information should be removed?
  • What information were you not expecting?
  • Is there a specific action you want taken?
  • What about X could the person do differently next time?

So, if barf is a reaction you feel the next time someone presents you with something to critique, this is fantastic! Embrace it; then break it down and focus on how to provide critical feedback so your barf becomes a bravo!  

What types of techniques have you discovered work well for providing feedback? Share your insights below or contact The Write Harle for a 1:1 chat!

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