By Jake Poinier
I’m an optimistic, positive person. Which is why the conclusions from this article—the positive role of negative feedback—caught my eye the other day: “What marks the transition from novice to expert?”. It describes freelancing to a “t.” It’s worth taking a minute to read the whole thing (it’s very short) and even downloading the source document, “Tell Me What I Did Wrong: Experts Seek and Respond to Negative Feedback” from the Journal of Consumer Research.
The researchers found that novices sought and responded to positive feedback, while experts sought and responded to negative feedback. Their conclusion? “Positive feedback increased novices’ commitment and negative feedback increased experts’ sense that they were making insufficient progress.”
This dovetails with my experiences as a freelancer, and even within my career as a whole. At first, you’re concerned if you have done a task correctly—you simply can’t judge it yourself because you don’t have enough experience. You love it when you get praised, because it means you’re figuring it out.
As you mature, it’s still nice to hear “Good job!”, but that’s no longer your sole motivation. Thoughtful, negative feedback is much more instructive. Indeed, it can be somewhat disappointing when someone gives you positive praise on a project that you know isn’t your best work!
In hindsight, the people who have pushed me the hardest have taught me the most, starting with the first editor I ever had (who bought red pens by the metric ton), and most recently this morning, with a client who kept saying “no, no, no” to every suggestion I made for an email subject line. It can be frustrating, sure, and I would never retain a client who’s a jerk about it. But in the end, negative feedback, taken professionally rather than personally, is one of the many keys to becoming an expert.