How to Incorporate Feedback

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In my last post, I gave some tips on how to gather great feedback. Today I’d like to share a technique for evaluating and incorporating the feedback once it’s in. It isn’t always easy to distinguish feedback that is tough but fair from the inevitable potshots from the peanut gallery. How do you work in the comments and questions raised by your reviewers so that your content actually becomes stronger and more valuable?

Author Mark Murphy of Leadership IQ offers up a valuable framework with what he calls the FIRE Technique. It’s a great way to evaluate feedback with a growth mindset. To learn more, check out Murphy’s book Truth at Work: The Science of Delivering Tough Messages.

FIRE stands for Facts, Interpretations, Reactions, and Ends. The process works like this. A fact is something that is objective and verifiable. Obviously, you want to incorporate corrections by your subject matter experts. It’s also your job to discard any errors introduced by reviewers. I once had a reviewer who tried to overrule Strunk & White on the matter of further and farther!

Frequently, you’ll receive feedback that reads initially as opinion, such as “too many big words!” or “put a positive spin on it!” Take the time to dig in and look for the factual component behind these comments.

What is the right reading comprehension level for your company’s pieces, anyway? Has it ever been discussed? Are your customers experts or laypeople? Is the piece technical or does it provide more general information? Run it through a readability calculator and see what you find out. Maybe your material really is coming in an expert level when it needs to be more basic. This gives you the facts you need to simplify your sentence structure and replace some of your favorite three-dollar words (every writer has ’em!) with some two-cent words.

And what about the “spin” comment? Is your piece about an industry danger and the consequences? Even if your company is providing the answers, maybe a rewrite could present the same information while focusing on solutions and ways customers could be proactive. This feedback can be objectively analyzed and then addressed through skilled rearrangement of story structure and word choice. Taking the time to understand it and correct it is well worth the effort.

Let’s face it, though—not every comment warrants the same level of consideration. For example, sometimes you’ll get feedback such as “It didn’t grab me.” This is non-factual and subjective. If this is an isolated comment, it isn’t particularly valuable unless it’s coming from a decision-maker, in which case follow-up is essential. Vague or emotional reactions (either your own or those of a reviewer) should be stripped out or pursued to their factual basis, if any.

Finally, as Stephen Covey so wisely taught in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, keep the end in mind. In this case, the end is a readable piece that will be valuable to customers and represent you and your company well. By conducting a review cycle and then analyzing the feedback for factual, actionable improvements, you can incorporate valuable changes and produce a final piece that the whole team can stand behind.

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