Want to get better at what you do for a living? No matter your area of expertise — whether it is coding, writing, translation or design — there is a sure-fire method of speedily honing your craft. This silver bullet is surprisingly simple but many contractors shy away from it or do not take it seriously.
Its name? Constructive criticism.
Professional critique is an uncomplicated process:
- You submit samples of your work to be looked over by industry peers or potential users.
- They respond with honest knowledge-based feedback — good or bad.
Armed with this knowledge, you can hone your craft and fix your weaknesses. Sounds easy, right?
While obtaining a critique is relatively simple (especially with the resources listed at the end of this post), the tricky part is responding correctly to constructive criticism. The way you deal with feedback is the key to its potency. To help you make the most of it, here are four rules to guide your steps.
Rule #1: Solicit feedback from the right source
Sometimes you need input from your target audience; other times, you need feedback from fellow industry professionals. Be clear about who can offer the best advice based on your goals. If you are looking to improve customer experience, then ask potential users for advice. If you need more technical expertise, then get help from others in your field.
Rule #2: The feedback givers must be unbiased
Unless your family and/or close friends are naturally abrasive and critical, they are unlikely to be the best source for constructive feedback. Look for input from third parties who do not care about keeping your friendship. The less they are invested in you, the more likely you are to hear the brutal truth.
Rule #3: Never take it personally
This is one of the most important rules. If getting feedback is going to successfully help you develop your work, you have to be open to whatever is said. Be assured, negative feedback is going to hurt your pride. If they call your coding “amateur,” think your color scheme is trashy, or say that your writing lacks focus, you have to accept what your respondents say — and focus on what you can to do improve. If you follow this rule and accept whatever is said dispassionately, then you will grow in your craft.
Rule #4: Zero in on problem areas
Once you have received your advice, then it is time to act. Analyze the areas where problems were found. Ask yourself: “What am I lacking in skills or knowledge that is causing me to make this mistake?” Maybe you need to learn more about the fundamentals of PHP. Maybe your web copy needs to be run through spellcheck after every revision. Whatever the flaw, constructive criticism is invaluable for highlighting your weaknesses so that you know what areas need improvement.
Where to find help
Ready to get some helpful feedback, but not sure where to go? Here are some suggestions:
- Industry forums: Almost every profession has dedicated forums and user groups — and these groups are usually full of people that love to give their opinions. LinkedIn Groups are a great place to start. Another active online community can be found at the SitePoint Forums; these forums cover a wide range of industries so there is something for almost everyone.
- Social Media: Are you on Twitter, Facebook or Google+? Simply ask for input. You can sort through the advice given based on how much weight you give to a particular respondent's skill set.
- Critique Sites: There are critique websites whose main purpose is to help you receive input. One such site, Concept Feedback, is part review and part showcase — it allows you to submit your website design and receive helpful and detailed critique in return. Another site, FiveSecondTest, provides feedback specifically focused on site usability.
- Programmer Hangouts: Set up an account at a code hosting site, such as Bitbucket. Post your code there and then share the link so that others can view and comment on your work. Another option, Hacker News, offers a vibrant feedback-sharing community. Ask for input and you are likely to receive it!
The sites listed here are only a fraction of what is available. So help build the list! How do you go about obtaining constructive feedback on your work? Share your advice in the comments section below.