Are You Tuning in to Positive Feedback?

This post starts with a conversation with a reader on Twitter.  It went something like this:

Me: I loved  your piece today.  It was so full of life.

Them: I’m glad you liked the article.  I’m always full of self-doubt about my writing

Me: But every time I read your stuff I hear ‘you’

Them: Funny, everybody says that!  I read all your advice and I still find myself wanting

Wanting what? I wondered… Wanting different, better, more constructive advice?  Then I realised what she meant.  That, whatever other people said, she found her writing wanting.

(Def: absent, lacking.  Not measuring up to standards or expectations.)

Which got me thinking.  About suggestions that might help.  And also that she was probably far from being alone in this self-doubt, and dismissal of the praise of her words.

All of which got me thinking about a post on learning from the positive feedback that you get.  And 5 things to think about to explore this question:

Are you tuning in to positive feedback?

Feedback experiment by Sue P on flickr

1. Pay attention

Pay attention to the feedback you get.  Be specific - take a note of the language that people use.  And when I say take a note… try taking a note.  It’ll reinforce the positive feedback loop.

2. Notice your reactions

Tune in to your reactions to the words someone else has used.  Do those words resonate with you?  Do you feel a sense of connection?  See how they relate to a value, idea or approach that is important to you?

Those positive responses can give you a clue, both of what’s important to you in your writing style and content, and ways in which you are already achieving that effect with your words.

3. Ramp It Up

If you’re getting feedback that you value, and that hits your buttons, keep doing more of what you’re doing.  Ramp it up.

Have a look at your writing - as detached and analytical as you can.  If the feedback was that your writing was… heart-warming, authentic, funny, clear-minded, incisive, enlightening, witty, ‘just like  you’… what evidence can you see to back that up?  What words did you use, what stylistic devices, what tone of voice?

Take note, pay attention, and do more of the same.

Play, experiment, and enjoy.  You’re already going in the right direction.  See what happens when you do more of the it, this time with the volume up.

4. Test Any Disconnect

You might be aware of a feeling of dissonance, or disconnect though.  A sense of discomfort that the words people are using in their feedback don’t sound like the way you are.

In which case…

Try and ask yourself where the discomfort comes from.  Is it an automatic reaction?  Some people - many people - reach automatically for self-deprecation in response to compliments and praise.  It doesn’t need to be in relation to writing - it’s a well worn pattern of behaviour… which unfortunately misses the chance to learn from what someone else has said.

Think about it; don’t dismiss it by saying something that implies you don’t deserve the compliment, whether to them directly or as self-depreciating self-talk. Accept what that very generous person said to you as a clue that may reveal more about you than you may realize~ Rosa Say

Listen out for the voice of ‘not enough’.  If you’ve got an inner critic running rampant who’s whispering that your work is not good enough, try tuning into that voice.

What’s it saying… specifically?  What kind of voice is it?  Do you know where it comes from, or whose voice it is?  Do you agree wholeheartedly with his/her conclusions about your writing?

Of course it might not be self-deprecation, more the case that the feedback you’re getting doesn’t ring true with how you see yourself, or how you want to be.  (You might get praise for being clear-minded, when you’re trying to be poetic.  Thanked for being witty, when you want to shift to being deep.)

Working out where the disconnect comes from should give you some clues about where you want to go next.  And then a different set of options, approaches, and yes, other challenges open up.

5. Experiment

If you know where you want to get to, try experimenting with your writing for a while.  Write in different placess, or try out a different form.   Set a positive intention around the impact you want to make (including the tone you want to achieve) and see what happens when  you write within that frame.

And yes… then pay attention to the feedback you get.

But don’t drive yourself mad trying to achieve a style or a tone that’s never going to work for you.

Accept that writing is something you can never do as well as it can be done


How do you react when you get positive feedback on your writing?  Are there ways you’ve learned to use it so you can keep on stretching and improving?

Photo Credit: Feedback Experiment by Sune P on flickr
* one of the 27 secrets to writing like Hemingway)

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  1. That’s why I loved your articles, Joanna. You listening to your readers’ needs and always giving the best to the readers…

    wilsons last blog post..Earth Hour – Have You Signed Up Yet?

  2. Iain Broome · · Reply

    It’s a great post and something I think I can relate to having written by booky-wook as part of a postgraduate writing course. There, every thing I wrote was given feedback, and most of it would be ‘This is great, but you can improve it here, here and here.’ And that was extremely helpful, but it does lead to a mindset that expects (constructive) criticism, rather than praise, when actually, you need to listen to both if you’re to improve.

    Iain Broomes last blog post..Free e-book - ‘The academic eccentricity: creative writing in the classroom’

  3. Chris Owen · · Reply

    Self-doubt pervades my world at every turn. And that includes my writing.
    It’s taken me many years to accept that while I might not be able to draw, I actually can write in ways that engage people. So I DO have a creative bone in my body after all.
    But the voice inside my head doesn’t want me to get inflated in any way. After all says my mum’s voice “pride cometh before the fall”. So if I take pride in my creativity I’m stuffed aren’t I?
    As i read these amazingly pertinent tips, I realise I have done #2and 3 and get lots of feedback that says people hear my voice as if I’m reading out loud. I always assume that means some squeaky-voiced high-pitched grating tone must be there, sounding desperate for a laugh or somebody to “get” what she’s saying. So i just ignore the compliments but keep doing what seems to work. “At least they read it!” i think.
    But in reading tip #4 I realise that there is no disconnect. Deep down I am satisfied enough with the piece of work or I would never have allowed it near other eyes. I am actually achieving what is an understated objective, to seem friendly, engaging and draw people through the writing to the end where i hope to have something to get the reader thinking about taking an action.
    The compliments which may be in there get batted away mainly because there’s superlatives so they must be crapping on just to get something. (OMG there’s Mum’s voice again!) Or perhaps they’re just not capable of being critical, too kind, not enough of a writer (what a snob/wanker i sound! but that’s got some of mum’s words in there too!)
    So I think that means I’ve found my tone. I’ve experimented over the years and found a way to put words down. There is no plan before I start. I vomit it all out onto the computer and then i tweak it and shape it and the message and intention that was subconscious appears amongst the words somehow.
    If I try doing it another way or with a plan or headings it feels like I’ve got an arm tied behind my back so while I don’t know how or why it seems to work.
    Maybe that’s part of it. I don’t understand how the magic inside me works so it can’t be magic!
    Maybe it’s time I believed in magic.
    Maybe it’s time I accepted “that writing is something you can never do as well as it can be done” and just keep delivering. And maybe it’s time to to listen when people who’s writing i respect and admire tell me something.
    Sorry for such a long comment Joanna, but your writing meant I had to vomit that up till it all made sense!
    It does now. Maybe I can just breathe and say Thanks to a compliment or at least try faking it till i make it.
    See you on Twitter, Joanna.
    Big hugs for a profound lesson I’ve just learned!

  4. Brad Shorr · · Reply

    Joanna, As usual you offer scads of excellent advice, and it’s smart and appropriate how you showcase your coaching style in this post as you present it. I’ve tried to condition myself to hear criticism (positive or negative) without emotion. Emotional filters can get in the way of processing (or even hearing) the incredibly valuable feedback that comes our way. Let the feedback percolate in your head for a time. What sounds fantastic the moment you hear it may sound so-so a few days later. Many’s the time I’ve rushed into implementing a suggestion, only to discover weeks later I would have been better off handling it some other way. I guess I’m taking a roundabout way to say patience is a virtue!

    Brad Shorrs last blog post..The First Online Marketing Question Is, What Are My Keyword Phrases?

  5. Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach · · Reply

    Oh, the above is really stellar!!! It truly delves into getting in touch with the inner you regarding your own writing.

    My 10+ years online have given me a self-confidence that just about anything I write is great - I have the data of tons of satisfied customers/years of experience to back it up. So…I no longer “worry” about how things come out - if they’re subpar, they generally don’t get published, and if they do, I give myself permission by saying, everyone has an off day.

    Brilliant post - stumbled!

    Barbara Ling, Virtual Coachs last blog post..Adding sizzle to your elliptical workout

  6. Debbie Yost · · Reply

    It’s funny that I read this today, because I just posted my blog for the day and did a little experimenting on style. It’s not likely I’ll always write this way, but I thought it would be interesting to see what kind of response I got.

    Debbie Yosts last blog post..Clearing the Office

  7. Karen Swim · · Reply

    Joanna, brilliant advice! I also love the way you shared a teaching moment and demonstrated the value we can receive from your coaching. I know that I will need your coaching expertise a bit later this year and just thinking of getting help and applying lessons has me excited.

    The advice in this post is something I’m going to put in action right now and you have also helped me to accurately analyze feedback. Thank you!!! xoxo

    Karen Swims last blog post..Clear as Mud

  8. Jamie Grove - How Not To Write · · Reply

    Too often, I let the hustle of life keep me from enjoying the process and enjoying the positive aura of a job well done.

    I love to hear that people enjoy my work, but I always want to know why. I like to dig at that until I get the “answer,” by which point the reader is probably not going to read anything else I’ve written. :)

    Jamie Grove - How Not To Writes last blog post..Accepting the Process of Change

  9. amypalko · · Reply

    My inner critic is currently having a field day!
    You’ve reminded me that I need to focus on the positive feedback that I’m getting from outside, rather than the negative stuff I keep telling myself. I was doing this by filling out a compliment book - every time someone gave me a compliment, I wrote it down in a special book, and then at times of crisis I could look through it to reinforce the positive. I need to start doing that again. Thanks so much for the reminder :-)

    amypalkos last blog post..A Few Questions

  10. Great post Joanna (as usual). This one hits home. I am going to take more notes on the positive feedback and start looking for those clues about what is important to me versus what is important to others.

    After reading the excerpt from your conversation the first thing that sprang into my head was how to acknowledge a compliment. Somehow in saying a simple, grace-filled thank you for the feedback, we can internalise the praise a little easier. Do you find that?

  11. wilson thanks so much. I do try.

    Iain I think we need feedback that’s analytical, and constructively challenging, but I wonder if we sometimes forget the emotional and subjective responses to. The approach to feedback that I’ve learned and try and apply especially in a group setting where voices can easily be squashed is a) what I liked about it b) what would make it ‘even better if’ c) what personal connection I had to the piece of writing. The last one is often very illuminating - it creates a strong bond between the writer and listener/ reader - through the words that have been shared. I think it also helps to focus on the words that have the power, resonance… or whatever you care to call it.

  12. Chris, thank you for sharing all of that so honestly. I am absolutely sure that there are many, many people who have similar inner reactions to their own words, to compliments, and the fear of seeming above themselves. I don’t know if it is deep rooted to all cultures but it certainly is within Scottish culture. People refer to it as ‘I kent your faither’ ie who do you think you are. Get above yourself, and that’s what we, those of us who know you, will say, when you reach above yourself, and fail.

    First step is to recognise it, and then chose whether or not you want to follow that voice or not.

    I don’t really understand where words come from either Chris. The only bits of the process I’m really clear on are setting a positive intention, and trusting your unconscious mind. I think the magic you see on the page is your unconscious mind finding its way through your conscious barriers, and writing just the right words.

    If I think of any other resources / books that might help I’ll be sure and let you know. Meantime I look forward to reading more of your words :-)

  13. Brad your comment made me smile at the thought of all the wild geese I’ve gone chasing in response to some positive words! Point well made. My only caveat would be… if you filter out your own emotional reaction to what has been written you might risk filtering out the most important learning too. Don’t you think?

    Barbara thanks so much for your feedback, and for sharing your experience. I think blogging is a fantabulous medium for experimenting and learning from feedback, and giving us confidence in our own words. That’s the positive explanation for my addiction ;-) Glad I’m not alone.

    Debbie I hope you get a good response to your post. I really enjoyed its style - and the mental image you painted for us!

  14. Karen how intriguing! You’ve got me excited now too ;-) Glad you liked the post

    Jamie I have a wonderful picture in my head of you doggedly pursuing your readers for more feedback. Thanks for making me smile :-)

    Amy that might be a useful exercise to do to keep you going through the next week. I know it’s no real comfort to you just now, but the contribution you make to the universe far outweighs how you perform on one particular day, however significant it is it you, and I believe in all of my bones that things will work out for you just as they are meant to do, for your good.

    Karen hi. I think that would be a good place to start… what’s important to you vs what’s important to others. You’ve reminded me of the many years I felt like I was going crazy being complimented on being such a good manager and administrator when clearly I wanted to be a free-spirited writer and adventure! Some compliments can make you feel worse.. but you can always learn from them about the feedback you do value and want more of.

    re grace filled thank yous… absolutely. I’d encourage you to read Rosa’s article on basking in compliments for more on that. I’ve learned, am learning, how to say thank you from her. She models grace filled thank you… if you think about, there’s a lot of positive stuff that comes her away and somehow she is able to accept it without pride, to learn from it, and to make the giver feel good about what they’ve just said. It’s worth paying attention to just how she does this… so much to learn in there!

  15. Chris Owen · · Reply

    Perhaps that Celtic tradition that pervades my world is similar to yours. or perhaps it’s the Irish CATHOLIC tradition that stalks me and somehow tells me I’m not worth much. Unfortunately some of the deep-seated stuff was hard-wired before I could even talk and very hard to actually shift significantly.
    But I repeat I’m starting to take some notice of people whose opinions I respect and if you’re telling me it’s ok then maybe it is!

  16. Joely Black (@TheCharmQuark on Twitter) · · Reply

    Great post! I have always really struggled when people approached me to tell me they loved my writing, and I did squirm and feel uncomfortable. I think that’s why I turned inward so I could learn to accept praise better.

    It’s so easy to be self-deprecatory and I know I’ve been raised in a culture that actually values it if you insist that your work isn’t good enough for anything. Then I remember reading something that suggested that when we’re self-deprecatory in response to a compliment, we don’t just insult ourselves, we insult the person who gave us the compliment, too. I decided, on balance, that if I felt uncomfortable receiving a compliment about anything, I would simply smile and say thank you.

    After all, praise is a gift, and who really wants to throw it away in front of the giver?

    Joely Black (@TheCharmQuark on Twitter)s last blog post..Would it be really cheesy if I said I had a most excellent adventure?

  17. Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach · · Reply

    Long long ago, back before the earth’s crust cooled and when dinosaurs roamed the land (not to mention, “java” actually meant “coffee”), I had zero self confidence and zero self-love. And then events occured that showed me if I didn’t value myself or my work…why on earth should someone else have the confidence to do as well?

    That was a big turning point for me.

    Data points, Barbara

    Barbara Ling, Virtual Coachs last blog post..Twitter Affiliate Marketing

  18. Janice Cartier · · Reply

    It’s a call isn’t it, and a response…which makes it all the more important to have community, especially one that is up for making the experience a resonate one. So it would be quite foolish to only listen to our part of the playing.

    Joanna, you are one of the most resonate wanting people I know online. This is just a fabulous call to take all of us forward.. so once again, we share a bit of that similar page. And it is a lovely one at that.

    Janice Cartiers last blog post..Alluvian Landscape

  19. Hi Joanna,

    I know that the 4th point you make around testing for disconnect/dissonance will be enormously valuable to the way I write/work. My thanks to you for that in particular!

    The testimony in comments offered helpful insight into handling praise & positive feedback more comfortably as well.

    Chalk another one up to the community you could say :)

    Best Regards


    Pauls last blog post..What career story do you want to read right now?

  20. Meryl K. Evans · · Reply

    Echo echo echo lots of the above. Good stuff. Feel good, Joanna!

    Here’s a different spin — enjoy those little moments when you take pride in your writing — whether it’s an article you can’t believe you wrote or a compliment. Even seeing comments on your blog entry is positive because you compelled readers to talk about it (unless they’re saying mean things about the post).

    We need more positive stuff in our lives. Funny, I am writing an article about an application that encourages you to recording three good things every day.

    Meryl K. Evanss last blog post..Guest Post: Writing is Rewriting

  21. Chris I’m glad to hear you’re taking notice. Thanks again for helping me find my way into this conversation.

    Joely I recognise so many aspects of that culture too - you fit in by talking down stuff you want to be good at or proud of. It’s been amazing for me to watch you emerging from out of the confines of that chrysallis… I agree with what you say about accepting compliments. Even if we don’t value that person’s opinion in terms of critical feedback, accepting it will make you and them smile, and can only add to positive energy in the universe…

    Barbara I can imagine it must have been a huge turning point. I love the way you are now encouraging and inspiring others through your endeavours to do likewise

  22. Jan I like that thought… call and response. Makes me think of birds calling in the wild…Resonance is very important to me, in my own writing, and my response to what other people write. I try and trust my own sense of connection - resonance - and most of the comments I leave come from that place. In words I can’t find I know you are teaching me something just now… and I love being somewhere on a bit of that grand page with you

    Paul hello, and welcome here. You’ll see now how your comment earlier made me smile. I’m glad you found point 4 useful… will bear that in mind.

    Meryl you’re so right. Our self talk, the things we write about ourselves, take note of, feel good about, and yes feel pride in can help us to keep going, and keep producing our best stuff. I’m looking forward to your article. I picked up a suggestion yesterday about writing down your achievements as well as endless to do lists. It’s so easy to disregard what we have done in the constant chase after more, bigger, better

  23. Gennaro · · Reply

    For some reason, we tend to remember the criticism before the compliments. It’s important to listened to both. Criticism can be helpful if it’s constructive. So can positive comments. Like anyone I prefer the latter, but have improved various things from the former. I’d also say that some criticism is better for a private e-mail to the blog writer than for the comments section.

    Gennaros last blog post..Angkor Wat Through The Lens

  24. Meryl K. Evans · · Reply

    Gennaro, you’re right. That’s why it’s important for parents to give their kids at least 10 compliments for every one negative as it’s easy for the negatives to overshadow the compliments. We adults forget to do that and should for all parts of life, not just in parenting.

    Meryl K. Evanss last blog post..Links: 2009-03-20 Writer Mama Winner Edition

  25. Gennaro you’re right, we need the constructive criticism - not least because otherwise we won’t believe the praise. When I’m offering feedback I try and place the areas for improvement within a ‘sandwich’ of things that I thought were good, and that had a particular impact on me. It’s hard to ‘hear’ criticism if we’re feeling hurt or defensive - I think it’s more likely to go in if we know it’s coming from a constructive and positive place.

    Meryl it’s interesting - I don’t know if how people are as adults all stems from how they were treated as kids, or if it’s in their character - some people wouldn’t notice criticism if it hit them with an elephant dart loaded with poison… others are equally deaf to all the praise you could ever lavish upon them. I also think think women are particularly well practiced at disregarding praise… do you think?

  26. Meryl K. Evans · · Reply

    Joanna, here’s that article I referred to regarding “happiness.” Thanks for asking about it.

    Meryl K. Evanss last blog post..What the Writing Community Teaches

  27. Meryl, thanks for sharing that. I’ve followed some of that research too, and applied some it, though probably not consistently enough to make the difference. It’ll be interesting to see if technology helps us to affirm and apply some of these simple ways to live a happier life.

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