The Folly of False Feedback

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

Winston Churchill

I’ve been part of quite a few freelancing groups online. They’ve been based mostly on Facebook and they’re the kinds of groups that revolve around some blogger’s ability to have created a community around her- or himself.

You know the types – read the site, sign up for a newsletter or two, and then BLAM – join my private Facebook group (like there’s actually some barrier to entry) to get even more information and meet other like-minded entrepreneurs. We can all celebrate the awesomeness of our lives together!!

I quickly realized that I’m not cut out for these groups. They’re too….touchy-feely. They exist solely to prop people up when, in reality, a lot of the people involved need reality checks more than they need support. When you’re a “writer” and you post a link to one of your typo-ridden blog posts for circulation and no one calls attention to its shortcomings for fear of “tearing you down,” well, that’s a problem. (like this last sentence…holy run-on, right??)

Yet comment after comment in these groups is the same:

“Oh, this is great!”
“I really needed to read this today! Thanks!”
“Sooooo good!!”

and, my personal favorite….

“OMG – totally adding this to my Buffer.”

OMG, kill me.

In reality, the comments should go something like:

“Decent start, but your sentence structure needs a little work…keep going!”
“I got a little lost on the point you were making in the third paragraph. Otherwise, it’s a great start and I’m looking forward to seeing the finished version!”
“D’oh! There’s a typo in the second paragraph. Fix that, re-work the fourth sentence in the fifth paragraph, and fix that big block of text in the middle of the page. But you’re on to something!”

Ok, so by now you’re probably asking if I’m in a particularly bad mood as I write this. Truth be told, I might be feeling a bit snarky. But that doesn’t negate a very important fact of life and the thread that will run through today’s post. And that is…..

People don’t learn unless they are criticized.

Tell someone that they’re good at something when they’re not and they will continue to do that thing badly. You haven’t propped them up – you’ve done them an incredible disservice.

Now, I understand when friends do this for other friends. I operated as a professional photographer a few years ago and, like most people with a camera, I loved taking pictures and sharing them with my circle. The feedback was always amazing:

“Sooooo good!!”
“WOW!! Absolutely gorgeous!”
“Love this!!”
“Beautiful pictures, Eric!”

Admittedly, this was great for the ego. But, I was also self-aware enough to wonder if the same feedback would be possible from complete strangers. And, sure enough, it wasn’t until I sought the advice and criticism from those who didn’t actually know me that I started to get better at my craft. It would take years of this particular kind of growth before I would have the audacity to charge for my work.

The same thing has happened with writing. I’ve shared a few pieces with friends along the way. They were, of course, very supportive. But it wasn’t until I started putting my words in the public eye and seeking out true criticism that I started discovering the things that I really needed to improve upon. Because, guess what…there actually were faults in the writing. There were cracks and there were things that needed my attention. Hell, there were full-on holes. There was massive room for improvement.

This is what puzzled me about these Facebook groups. These are people who don’t technically know each other. They’re not friends, per se. They are merely people united under the common flag of having started working as freelancers. They are looking for some sort of common bond to share with others. They are looking to learn, to grow, and to make themselves better and give themselves a better chance at success.

So, why do they decide to spend that time lying to each other??

Here’s what happens in a situation like that.

Our freelancer in question posts blog post after blog post to their group. Week after week, they post their little “tidbits” and life stories and week after week they’re told how good their posts are. Never mind that it’s work that probably wouldn’t make it past a 7th grade English teacher. No, we’re going to keep telling our freelancer that their posts are great and we’re going to comment on them and maybe even share them with others.

Then the freelancer decides to go after a job. Propped up by months of positive feedback for mediocre work, the freelancer confidently goes after a job, somehow gets a win – probably based on personality – and starts working.

Two weeks later, the client is livid.

The work is mostly unusable and will require the client to go find another freelancer to fix it – spending even more money because they are now effectively having to buy this work twice.

The freelancer is crushed. Literally….crushed. They have no idea what just happened. Every single word they’ve ever heard about anything they’ve ever produced, even from the strangers in their Facebook groups, has been positive. But, when it came down what matters, they failed miserably.

So what was the difference? What was that thing that mattered? It’s simple.


Clients expect value for the money they are giving in exchange for your work. They are enriching you financially so they damn well better be getting something in return. They’re not paying you in feedback or in slots in their Buffer queue. They’re paying you with cash. Legal currency that could do just as much for them as it can do for you.

Keep that in mind when you’re feeling like stepping outside of the guarded walls of your positive feedback loop. Seek out critical eyes that have no problem telling you that your work is just ok.

Opportunities to improve are everywhere – even in the places we don’t want to look.