Feedback Defensiveness

You have asked a good friend, Marina, to read your manuscript. Here’s how defensiveness can steer a feedback session wrong:

Marina:
Sorry to take so long to get back to you. It’s been crazy at work and I wanted to do your novel justice.
You:
That’s okay. Thanks for taking the time.
Marina:
I liked the premise a lot—a young woman who inherits a company and has to learn how to run it.
You:
Yeah, I thought it introduces a young character into an interesting situation.
[Marina will likely tell you other things that she liked. But eventually, she will move on.]
Marina:
There were just a couple of things—I mean, they’re just my opinion.
You:
I’d be interested in hearing them.
Marina:
Your main character—I started disliking her—she was so ruthless.
You:
But she had to be in the situation.
Marina:
Yeah, but that dirty trick on her old boss—that seemed pretty mean.
You:
No, you read that wrong—it wasn’t dirty; it was justice.
Marina:
Well, that’s not the way I saw it.
You:
I don’t think you got the intent. She has to take every opportunity to succeed.
Marina:
Maybe, but it’s how it struck me.
[Marina makes other suggestions but YOU don’t find merit in any of them.]
You:
Well, thanks for reading it.
Marina:
I guess I wasn’t much help.
You:
Of course you were but I think I’ll ask Bernice to read it, too.

Conversation aftermath

You end the conversation dissatisfied. Marina just didn’t get it. It was a waste of time. But in fact, the problem wasn’t with Marina but with your defensiveness. Here’s how:

  • You commented on the good feedback. Yes, you need to acknowledge the positives but not give the impression that she got the correct answer as you sort of did.
  • You justified your view of the character. You discarded the feedback even though it’s important information about how some readers see the character. Might not be everyone but she might represent enough of a minority to worry about. But you were justifying more than listening.
  • You decided her opinion was incorrect. In fiction, it’s hard for anybody’s opinion of a character to be wrong. You may not feel the same way and that’s okay, but she’s still entitled to her opinion.
  • You decided she didn’t get your intent. Doesn’t matter what you intended—what’s on the page is the only thing Marina has access to. If she didn’t get it, you need to pay attention.
  • You probably burned a friend who was willing to give you feedback. By dismissing everything Marina said, you signal that you didn’t value the time and effort she put in. You don’t have to agree with the feedback but you need to make it clear you value her contribution if only so that sh will be willing to do it for the next manuscript.

So, how do you avoid defensiveness in feedback sessions and still keep your vision, whether it be fiction or memoir? In the next post, let’s discuss that.