Foreign Agents and Feedback: Making the Most of Partners in Content Creation

Imagine yourself as one of the greatest spies in history. You graduated top of your class at the Spy Academy. You trained with some of the greatest undercover minds of all time. Throughout your career, you’ve matched others in wits and might, always coming out on top and saving the day. You’ve even thwarted some of the world’s most renowned and reviled supervillains along the way. Suffice to say, you know exactly what you’re doing and don’t need anyone’s help to do it. So what happens when somebody’s help is a part of your next mission?

As agents out in the field, we sometimes have to collaborate with foreign agents to reach lofty goals. These spies may have a new set of skills, or their own way of working on things. While that can feel like a challenge or an affront against you, it can actually help further your attempts. Producing quality content is rarely a one-person job; you may have the skills to strategize and create informative pieces but bringing in someone with marketing skills or expertise on your subject matter may help you reposition the piece to address the pain points of a wider audience. Here’s how even the most experienced content creators can make the most of collaboration with other project stakeholders.

Why Do We Hate Feedback?

Whether it’s coming from someone inside your squad or from an outside source like a client, feedback can often feel like an attack. Though factors like a poor approach, unnecessarily negative tone, or unneeded criticism may play a part, our collective reaction to feedback may be an inherent and human flaw. Scott Halford, the author of Be a Shortcut: The Secret Fast Track to Business Success, suggests that, “Feedback indicates that an adjustment needs to be made, and the threat response turns on and defensiveness sets in.”

Often times, we feel that our work is an extension of ourselves. We pour time and effort into a piece, using our own insights and thoughts to shape it. This is especially true for written content, in which our inner voice tends to come out on paper. That’s not to say that we always feel resolute confidence in our work. In fact, we may even feel concerned about the final product; perhaps one section feels flat, or we have larger concerns about the general direction of the assignment. But whether we feel positive or negative toward our creation, our hopes are generally to receive praise and validation for what we’ve put together. So, when someone gives us an objective opinion regarding a piece, it can sting, or even be deflating to hear that we got part or all of it wrong.

How Is Feedback Helpful?

When asked about feedback and editing, prolific American writer Dominick Dunne said, “The best advice on writing was given to me by my first editor, Michael Korda, of Simon and Schuster, while writing my first book. ‘Finish your first draft and then we’ll talk,’ he said. It took me a long time to realize how good the advice was. Even if you write it wrong, write and finish your first draft. Only then, when you have a flawed whole, do you know what you have to fix.”

As writers and content creators, it’s easy to come down with a case of tunnel vision. We become so focused on certain aspects of a piece of writing that we begin to let other sections or perspectives fall to the wayside. For example, you may be working up a story about the financial benefits of increasing contributions to your 401(k). Now, this would be a post that needs an equal amount of input on both a narrative and factual side; your article will need to show readers how this could directly influence and affect their lives, while also providing concrete facts that back up these claims. But, as you continue to write and transcribe the stories of actual 401(k) participants, of how one worker was able to actually retire on time and spend his golden years with his loving partner, you may start to find yourself drawn more to the narrative aspect. You continue to craft and choose language that expresses this extremely personal story, and upon finishing feel a sense of pride by creating content that will so deftly appeal to the emotional side of the audience.

However, upon receiving feedback, you may be surprised to see the article littered with comments asking for more data. Though it may feel frustrating to not be validated for writing what you felt was a perfect piece, your story will eventually be stronger as your editor was able to catch the inadequacy of the article and help you to support your appeals to pathos with actual financial and scientific data that backs up your narrative side. Much like having a foreign agent telling you that you’re getting close to the subject you’re tailing, there’s a good chance that they very well might be right. By listening to them and letting off the gas, the end result could easily be a better overall performance.

How to Accept Feedback

Whether the spy you’re partnered with is giving you intel in a friendly tone or with a gruff voice, there are ways to listen, absorb, and respond to the feedback that will not only make for a relaxed experience, but increase the usefulness of the conversation. The following are some sleuth-testing, spy-approved tips for accepting feedback from all agents, whether they be colleagues or foreign visitors.

Stay Silent and Listen

As the one receiving feedback, it’s not really your place to insert your opinions or further lines of questioning. Interrupting the speaker will only cause you to miss important messages or dilute the effectiveness of the advice. Rather, this is a time for you to listen intently to what they have to say and try to focus on comprehension instead.

Resist the Urge of Self-Defense

Similarly to the point above, a feedback session is not a time for you to meet every point with an explanation. It’s perfectly understandable and normal human behavior, but it doesn’t add anything to the exchange. If you have a truly vital explanation, consider writing it down and sharing after the agent has finished speaking.

Ask Qualifying Questions when Necessary

Once the agent has finished providing you with feedback, ask them to clarify any points that weren’t entirely clear. Again, this is not a time for confrontational or accusatory tone. Instead, make sure that you only ask questions that allow you to better understand their opinion.

Repeat Back for Understanding

This might be the most important step when it comes to total comprehension. In your own words, summarize their intel and demonstrate that you were listening wholly and completely. Not only will it make it easier for you to remember as you work on revisions, but it will make the agent feel less stressed about having similar discussions in the future.

How to Give Helpful Feedback

On the other side of the coin, you may be required to provide detailed reports to other agents in your squad. Whether your specialty is in writing, marketing, public relations, or any other area, you have a unique and useful perspective to share. However, it can be easy for a simple conversation you meant to be helpful to suddenly turn ugly. Here are a few easy-to-follow rules for making every feedback session a positive one.

Good Body Language

It may seem trite, but the smallest facial cues can make or break an interaction with another agent. In fact, research has shown that our smiles and frowns actually activate the same muscles in others. This suggests that by practicing good body language technique, such as a positive facial expression, good eye contact, an open position (i.e. no crossed arms), and a relaxed posture, you can create a comfortable environment for this discussion.

Give Positive Feedback as Well

Find places where the agent has done something good and be sure to let them know. Though experts may suggest you stray away from the compliment sandwich, you can still communicate their strengths in a helpful and sincere manner.

Don’t Apologize for Honesty

Upon giving a piece of critical feedback, you may feel inclined to quickly apologize. Though this is a natural reaction, doing so will only weaken your point. Remember that your input is valuable and will only help the receiver, and stay strong in your message.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

At the end of the day, the most important suggestion for giving quality feedback is to consider the receiver’s position. You know what you’re going to say, so ask yourself “How would I like to be told this information?” This can help to soften the blow of rough feedback, or make sure you stay strong and confident.

Whether you’re being forced to welcome in foreign agents or you’re the one on unfamiliar ground, providing and receiving feedback in never an easy task. It’s easy to let emotion rule and get in the way of what you’re there to do. However, feedback is a fantastic way to make sure that every piece of content is not only well-written, but also positioned to serve your audience. By reminding yourself that these foreign agents are not the enemy, but your all you’ll be able to become an even better spy just by listening to what they have to say.

Agent, you have been selected for one of marketing's most important secret missions: content espionage. On your assignment, you'll be expected to gather intelligence about your target audiences, employ shadow tactics to deliver content at strategic points, and conduct your work in absolute secrecy. Download the Metonymy Media Bureau of Content Marketing's field manual for procedures in reconnaissance, mind control, spy networks, and more for maximum marketing impact. This lead generation form will self-destruct upon completion.