15 February 2010

I’ve had two reminders lately about the power and importance of feedback. They both sparked lovely little lightbulbs of goodness in my head, so I thought I’d share.


I was just listening to a conversation in the Gamechangers Roundtable series (which, by the way, I highly recommend), amongst Jonathan Fields, Chris Guillebeau, Pam Slim, and Reese Spykerman with Elizabeth Marshall and Sarah Robinson. Reese, the designer of the bunch, who’s always tweeting interesting and smart things and creates some really wonderful websites, said something at the end of the conversation that struck me. I’ll have to paraphrase, but it was something like this: The minute someone stops and engages with you, take time to think about it and appreciate it, because it is a gift.

How I internalized this — and I hope I’m not misinterpreting — is that when someone bothers to look at what you you do and then, goes on to bother to tell you why they like it, or what they like about it, or how it effects them, or anything along those lines, it’s vital that you concentrate, and listen to them, and appreciate back that they have taken time, out of their no-doubt busy life, to connect with you. They have gone one step beyond, probably several steps beyond, what was required of them. And have made the world, or your life at least, that much better.

Chock up one more point in the universe for EM Forster’s “only connect”.

This is a reminder, too, to reciprocate. When something strikes you, appeals, influences, challenges, inspires — jot its creator a note. Or say a kind word. It doesn’t have to be public, you don’t have to become part of the 3% (or whatever it is) of blog readers that actually comment on blogs. It can be an email, a call, an in-person conversation, a direct message on Twitter or Facebook, a card in the snail mail. Depends on the circumstances, your relationship and your proclivities. But don’t just think it, let them know. (Is that someone’s advertising slogan?)

This happened to me

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a few days, actually. I know I’m detrimentally sensitive, but I was noticing what a big difference a kind word can make, even, or especially, in the world of work. (And the opposite is also true — despite my training, my “hardening” in art school critiques as a youth, one unkind word can ruin my day, or my feelings about a project).

I’m pretty embarrassed about this story, but I’m going tell it anyway.

This is what happened. Last August, I did a family portrait photo shoot for an acquaintance. The “client” knew I was busy with my design work and that photography isn’t my main thing, so she expressed a vague timeline for having photos in hand by “the holidays”.

“No problem,” I thought. It was summer. If the holidays start at the end of November, I have scads of time to edit the photos and get her a DVD. So I procrastinated a bit, but not horribly. It took me a couple months to edit the photos. But I finally finished and put up a website to show the client. I told her I’d be glad to send her a DVD of everything, so she could make Christmas cards, or whatever. It took her a little while to get back to me. She said she’d love a DVD.

That was about all she said. As I’m a bit insecure about my portrait photography (I’m really an artsy-fartsy alt-process pinhole kinda photographer, not one who does truly realistic, portraity stuff), I took her brevity to imply that she was disappointed with the shoot, but figured she might as well get copies of the photos, since she paid for them.

Feeling bad about the quality of my work, it took me a few weeks to put the DVD together and put it in the mail.

A week or so later, the client emailed to say that her daughter broke the DVD before she could load the photos, could I send another?

It took me a few weeks to do that. And then, that DVD arrived broken. Stupid me. I didn’t package it well. We went through the dance again, the client asked for a new dvd, it took a while, I sent another, this time well-packaged. A few weeks later, she got back to me. She received the DVD, but it wouldn’t work in her computer.

By this time, not just November, but Christmas had come and gone. I’d felt progressively worse and more and more lame with each DVD malfunction. I put together another DVD, tested it, packaged it in a ton of bubble wrap, included a card with an apology and sent it off again.

This time, not only did the client get a DVD she could work with, but she wrote back thanking me, saying the photos were beautiful and that she’d definitely be ordering some prints.

I’d been feeling awful about this whole project for almost six months. And with that one simple email, no more than 3 sentences in total, she blew away half a year of cobwebs and self-doubt.

I don’t relay this story to criticize my client in any way. If anything, I’m sure I’m the one who looks the worst through it all — unable to complete a simple task properly and keying my self-image to irrelevant external factors. She was just being succinct and businesslike. I was reading too much into everything.

However, what I learned from this experience, and why I related such a long boring story to you just now, is that it’s really important to give people feedback, especially good feedback. It’s important for me to do that for other people. Even if I think someone’s far more clever than me, with a much better developed ego that doesn’t need praise and reinforcement, give them a true, kind word anyway. How do I know how it will effect them? Certainly it couldn’t hurt.

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The Comments Section

  1. SO thrilled that The GameChangers Roundtable is inspiring youo – YAY!

  2. reese says:

    Hi Annie,

    Thanks so much for taking the inspiration seed from the gamechangers and growing it into this lovely plant of a story here.

    It reminds me of something my voice teacher told me once: when people compliment you, thank them. Otherwise, it’s a rejection of that compliment, and it makes them feel rejected.

    Her advice was illuminating, and I’ve followed it ever since.

    • Annie says:

      Thanks so much Reese. For the comment, and for inspiring the post to begin with!

      It’s so interesting, the wisdom that you slowly garner, as the rebellious petulance of youth wears off… even just saying “thanks” to the bus driver when you get off the bus and having her smile make you smile. Totally worth it.

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