Start composing your own music—here's how
In the last coaching article, we already showed you how to deal calmly with criticism. This article is now about how to give good, constructive feedback to other people. This is important because, especially in the musical and artistic field, we are often dependent on the cooperation with others, regardless of whether it's in a professional or private context. So if you want to learn how to express your views, suggestions, or requests in a relaxed way without endangering the relationship through possibly destructive communication patterns, feel free to read on here.
Let's start with a little clarification of terms. Feedback literally means "provide in return" or feed back information. It is a form of conversation in which we learn from other people how we are perceived. Often we talk about positive feedback, through which other people express what they specifically liked. Negative feedback, on the other hand, points out weaknesses that others perceive as still needing improvement. Another important term that is repeatedly mentioned in this context is the word "constructive." Later in this post we'll discuss what this means exactly and why constructive feedback is so important. But first, let's turn our attention to another question.
Surely everyone has experienced how it feels when someone gives their unsolicited opinion (meaning nobody asked for it). Many people feel that such behavior is disruptive, especially if the feedback is negative. When giving feedback, it is advisable to ask in advance whether feedback is desired or not. In this way, you give your counterpart the opportunity to decide for themselves whether your opinion is wanted. This will help you avoid the worst case: having the recipient feeling blindsided or disturbed by your words. Time, place, and situation also play a role: If your counterpart is in a bad mood or stressed, for example, it can make sense to raise the question of feedback at a later time.
Constructive feedback is structured according to certain criteria. Adhering to these will lead to a discussion situation in which your counterpart does not feel attacked by the criticism, but instead feels valued and respected. A very central element is concrete suggestions for improvement that could help to remedy an identified weakness. In this way, pointing out a problem goes directly hand in hand with a possibly implementable solution approach or, ideally, awakens even better ideas for optimal solutions. Constructive feedback thus represents an indispensable component of good teamwork and ultimately of shared musical masterpieces. Sounds great, doesn't it? But what exactly is the best way to approach constructive feedback?
Constructive feedback meets several criteria, which are mentioned and elaborated on here. These criteria conceptualize good feedback as descriptive, subjective, concrete, and constructive. In addition, constructive feedback includes a presumption of the positive intent of a behavior. The reference to the sometimes subjective effect as well as suggestions, wishes or requests are also components of constructive feedback. Sounds a bit theoretical, doesn't it? Don't worry, we'll now go through all these aspects together—step by step—and look together at how something like this can be implemented in practice.
If you want to give constructive feedback, start with a description of what you perceived sensually, subjectively, and concretely in relation to a certain situation or behavior. It is important here to leave out any form of evaluation. Simply describe what you perceived (saw, heard, etc.) without interpreting what you perceived. A descriptive, subjective and concrete statement could, for example, read as follows:
"During the audition, I saw you looking down at the floor more than once."
Every behavior is based on a positive intention. Therefore, try to incorporate your counterpart's positive intention into your feedback. This makes your counterpart feel seen and appreciated. The positive intention is—depending on the situation—sometimes obvious, sometimes not. If it is difficult for you to recognize it, you can also express your guess as to what the positive intention might have been. Practically implemented, this step could look like this—to continue our previous example:
"Maybe you looked down at the floor more often because that helped you stay grounded mentally."
The point of this tip is to explain the consequence of your subjective observation. What kind of potentially undesirable impression did the observation, for example looking at the floor during the audition, leave on you? Try to describe this impression accurately in a few words, for example like this:
"It looked a little unsafe to me that you kept looking down at the floor."
The last step consists of formulating a constructive suggestion for improvement that can create a more positive effect on the counterpart. More precisely, this can be not only suggestions, but also wishes or requests. Make sure that what you propose is really feasible for the other person.
"If you like, maybe you could try making eye contact with others a little more often while singing."
The preceding tips create a good framework that can ensure that your counterpart does not feel personally attacked despite criticism. On the contrary, if you follow the individual steps, you will create an appreciative, constructive basis for communication, which is a very important starting point. This ensures that your counterpart can find satisfactory solutions that work as intended. Thus, the ability to give constructive feedback is an incredibly important skill with which true masterpieces can be created through successful collaboration.
Did this article whet your appetite for a collaborative project with other musicians? If so, you can network with other music enthusiasts here on mukken. If you are interested in further coaching content, you can find an article overview here. If you would like to be coached personally, please have a look at my homepage.
Originally published on March 22, 2023, updated on March 22, 2023