“Thanks very much: it is so interesting to hear exactly what people do like and don’t like, which is just what grown-up readers never really tell.”C.S. Lewis, Letters to Children, 33.
C.S. Lewis often thanks children for their specific feedback. Children are unintimidated to tell him exactly what they like and don’t like about his beloved Narnia Chronicles. Grownups, he says, are reluctant to do so.
He doesn’t list the reasons for this adult hesitance–I think much of it has to do with respect. After all, who am I to tell the internationally famous C.S. Lewis what I really think of his book? Truly, the most helpful feedback often comes from true peers who are trained to discern things that most people can’t hear, taste or see. Chefs judge chefs. Musicians judge musicians. So, non-specific feedback as a form of humility and reverence is totally appropriate.
I’m sure Lewis got plenty of non-hesitant feedback from grownups that was discouraging and ignorantly unhelpful or gushingly positive, but nonspecific. Hence, the refreshing frankness of a child–both specific and unabashed.
So, if you want to level up your affirmation, take a cue from the kids and point out something specific that you liked. What was your favorite part? Why? You don’t have to be a chef to say the frosting was your favorite part because it melted in your mouth. You don’t have to be a musician to say you got goosebumps at that one part when the cellos came in. When my children present their music or artwork I try to zoom in on some detail that stands out to me. And to ask them what they like best about the piece. This isn’t always necessary of course. “Well done” is often plenty. Warm silence is okay too. Having specific conversations about things that need to be improved is trickier, but necessary for growth.