Curtailing the urge to provide unsolicited feedback

A question to the Kingdom A&S Minister, Master Philip White:

“I just realized that there’s some constructive criticism I think an artisan needs. I want to walk over to them and share my feedback. How’s the best way to do that?”

A reply from the Minister:

This is a great follow up to my post yesterday. There I talked about how to give feedback when someone walks up to you and asks for it.

This question?

This reads more like we are talking about unsolicited feedback. And we’re going to ask you to please not give unsolicited feedback.

Here’s the thing.

Do you already have explicit permission to give feedback to an artisan? Are you the artisan’s peer or mentor? Do you work closely with the artisan and already have an established relationship?

If you can’t say “yes” to any of these questions with absolute confidence then please pause and reconsider.

There are other, better times, to give people feedback. Wait for those times.

Artisans will display their work at events, they will ask for comments on social media or through their blogs, they will enter competitions, they show up at A&S consultation tables. Those are better times to work with artisans on constructive feedback.

Wait for times that you have permission. Wait for consent.

That’s when an artisan is in a good frame of mind. That’s when they are more likely ready to hear your feedback and be able to take action on it. That’s when they are more likely to learn from you and to grow.

It is unlikely that an artisan will want feedback “in the moment”.

Did you just hear wording for a scroll you think needed work? Maybe you had suggestions for the illumination? Or comments on the calligraphy?

Finding that scribe right after court would not be the right time to give feedback. They are a volunteer. They just did some work they are proud of for someone else. Let them enjoy that. They didn’t enter an A&S competition.

That’s not the time for unsolicited feedback. Please do not do that.

Did you just see a person walk by in clothing that had some construction issues? Maybe a questionable fabric choice? Fit challenges?

Walking over to that person unannounced is not the right time to give feedback. They are also a participant in the SCA so of course they are wearing an attempt at historical clothing. But? They may not be as focused on historical recreation. They may just be wearing clothes that they really enjoy wearing. They didn’t enter an A&S competition.

That’s not the time for unsolicited feedback. Please do not do that.

Did you just attend a feast that had some modern elements? Maybe you didn’t like the timing for when the different elements are served? Maybe you questioned some of the ingredients?

Finding that cook right after feast would not be the right time to give feedback. They are a volunteer. They just did lots of work they are proud of for an event. They are likely tired, coming down from a stressful day, and still working on cleaning up. They didn’t enter an A&S competition.

That’s not the time for unsolicited feedback. Please do not do that.

That’s just a few examples. I think you get the point.

Unsolicited constructive criticism is one of the main causes of unhappiness for people in the arts and sciences and sometimes even in the SCA. It makes people frustrated. It makes them not want to play.

Please do not do it. Please.

Instead? Pause. And wait for a more appropriate time.

Remember that person and wait for a better time to start the conversation. Wait for them to enter an A&S competition. Wait for them to attend a class you are teaching. Wait for them to start a conversation with you some other time in the future.

You can also talk to their peer or mentor. You can talk to someone else who is used to working with them and ask that person about giving constructive criticism.

Or, you can seek consent to give feedback. There’s easy ways to do this without hurting feelings or causing misunderstandings. Something simple works.

“Thank you for your work. I really enjoyed it. I’d love to talk to you more about it sometime. This is the kind of art I’m really interested in. I’d like to get to know you more.”

Try something like that. Let them decide to come to you. Let them ask for help or feedback.

Do you have some other concern? Something more serious?

Don’t get caught up in the moment. Unless we’re talking about something actually life threatening, then please, still, pause, and wait before giving feedback.

Safety is important. The integrity of our organization is important. If you think there is a health risk (such as hazardous materials) or a legal/ethical issue (such as plagiarism) then please talk to someone. Depending on the circumstances you might approach the artist of you might also consider talking to an officers We can help.

Remember… Have fun! Learn! Teach!

Your Servant to Command,
~p.w.

Be honest about what kind of help you’re looking for.

A question to the Kingdom A&S Minister, Master Philip White:

“How can we help people understand that when they say ‘What do you think about my work?’ there is a difference between asking ‘I would like affirmation!’ and ‘I would like constructive feedback!’ because they are very different things?”

A reply from the Minister:

You know what I do?

I ask.

First? I always try and remember to ask. It doesn’t matter if I am standing in line at gate or I am judging a competition. I ask. It doesn’t matter if it is a friend or a stranger. I ask.

I start by asking.

“What kind of comments are you looking for?”

Something like that.

I don’t know what I am looking at. Is it their wedding dress? Is it something they made for their sick friend? Is it a first attempt?

I don’t know unless I ask.

And just because it is a display or a competition I still don’t assume. Sometimes people set up a display or enter a competition for different reasons. It is not always to have someone give their display or entry a hard look. And so I ask.

And by asking that gives me a chance to start a conversation. There’s a lot more we can and learn from each other if we’re actually talking and listening to each other.

Maybe they are looking for me to say “That’s really cool!” or “That’s really pretty!” and that’s all they need or want. That’s okay! Getting simple positive feedback can be good. Not everything needs to be detailed yet constructive feedback.

And maybe they are looking for some pretty specific help on only a certain part of what they are creating. That’s okay too. Sometimes we are able to give that kind of feedback too.

Now, that’s all on us, right?

We, given the position to offer feedback, are also in the position to figure out what kind of feedback we are giving.

It would be great if people asking for feedback would know how to articulate, up front, exactly what they are looking for. However, that doesn’t always happen. And, especially with newer artisans, they may not even know the difference.

If someone is asking us for help then we can help them first by asking what they are looking for from the start.

Now, what if you’re on the other side? What if you’re the person asking for help?

Think about what it is you’re looking for. What do you want? What to you need?

Be honest about what kind of help you’re looking for. Figure that out. And ask for that. If you’re not ready for constructive feedback then please do not ask for it. If you’re wanting some detailed criticism then ask at a time where we can give you a thorough and thoughtful answer.

That will help the person asking and the person responding.

If we’re talking then we can both figure it out from there. So let’s work together on it.

Remember… Have fun! Learn! Teach!

Your Servant to Command,
~p.w.