It's been an interesting month so far. Two relevant things happened: first, I got some critical feedback that I needed to hear but sort of stung, and second, CruiseSheet has been doing extremely well.
For the longest time I've run my businesses as I thought they should be run. I'd hear people out and take advice on small things, but even when lots of smart people I love and respect said that I should do something big differently, I wouldn't. I'd listen and feel like I was considering it, but really I knew I wouldn't take the advice.
And then later I'd think to myself about how I had my own way and how great it was and how some day people will see that my way was right!
But that day never really came.
This time, with CruiseSheet, I started asking three of my friends who are good at marketing and sales what to do. And I hate their advice. They tell me to do all of the things I don't want to do, and I get defensive and try to come up with reasons they're wrong, and I argue.
But this time around, I listen. For example, I hate sending newsletters to people. In my mind it's a nuisance and I think people will want to unsubscribe. But I wrote a couple and sent them. I got several emails back about how much they liked the newsletter, almost no one unsubscribed, and I got a ton of bookings.
It totally worked, not just to get sales, but to connect with my potential customers. I was one-hundred percent wrong. And that's not the only example-- there are plenty.
It pays, sometimes literally, to listen. And even when it doesn't put money in your bank account, it's valuable.
That was easy feedback to hear, but it wasn't easy to implement. Other feedback is tough to hear at all. But I know it's something I need to work on, so I've been thinking a lot about how to receive and use feedback.
1. You have to make yourself unequivocally open to feedback and you have to force yourself to stay positive while hearing it. If people think that you will react poorly when they give you bad feedback, why would they give it to you? They're not going to do you a favor only to be criticized or lashed out at. So when you get feedback, thank the person and remain positive.
2. Ask yourself what you'd have to do differently if the feedback were true. You don't have to accept that the feedback is true, just think about what it would mean if it was. This lets the feedback get through your first layer of defense, so that it could actually be considered.
I got some secondhand feedback on why a girl wasn't interested in me-- my initial reaction was to be defensive and make it about her. But then I thought-- what if she was right? What could I have done differently? What should I do with the next person? And as I thought about those things I could see how it would have made a positive difference. And then I was in a position to accept that it was valid feedback.
3. Separate negative real-world consequences with negative ego consequences. When my friends gave me marketing advice, it felt like bad things would happen if I did what they said to do. But when I thought about the actual negative consequences (maybe a few people would unsubscribe), I realized that reality didn't match up with my emotional response, and that really I just didn't like the idea of being wrong.
4. Understand why people are giving you feedback. Most people will give you feedback because they want what is best for you. There are other motivations, but if people have expertise or information, they generally want to share it with you.
Other times people are projecting. They want security, so they try to push you to do things that will give you security. You can usually weed these people out because they won't be giving you the same advice as everyone else.
But if people you know and respect are all giving you the same feedback and have a clear understanding of the situation, you should probably take their advice.
5. Look for patterns. If you hear similar feedback across several facets of your life, it's almost certainly true. If several people tell you similar things, that's probably true too. Don't bury your head in the sand because it's convenient.
Taking advice is hard and sometimes it's even painful. But being able to put aside your ego and use feedback is extremely valuable. It allows you to use other people's expertise as well as their detached perspective. And those are two things you can't get on your own.
Photo is a cool statue in the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg
I'm having a reader meetup in Budapest tomorrow. Come to 1000Tea on Vaci Ut. at 12pm!
Here's my theory: harsh criticism is one of the most valuable commodities out there, and you should be collecting as much of it as possible. Secondly, people enjoy giving harsh criticism, but only if they know it will be appreciated. If they think you might react poorly, you'll never hear it.
Sebastian and I pretty much have a relationship based on harsh criticism. I remember a year ago or so he was in San Francisco, it was after midnight, and we were circling this random patio in the middle of the park. And we were just unloading on each other. It felt like a boxing match or something.
And, you know, after the conversation we were both better off, and probably better friends, too. We both love giving and receiving harsh criticism.
I got an email from him last week, saying that it seemed like my focus on Sett was waning and that I was spending too much effort on learning languages, traveling, and being crazy. It was more eloquently written than that, but that was the gist.
I was just listening to the Lifestyle Business Podcast, "Episode 51 - 5 Signs You Might be a Loser" - great podcast. It's an aggressive title, but it's actual a super helpful episode that's not aggressive at all.
One of the topics on there was criticism - Dan and Ian were talking about how it's a sure path to loserdom if you can't take constructive criticism.
I think that's true, but I still try to almost never give negative criticism to anyone, ever.
"As a general rule...people ask for advice only in order not to follow it; or if they do follow it, in order to have someone to blame for giving it." — From Alexandre Dumas's "The Three Musketeers"
I've found the vast majority of people will never take any criticism you give them, will be upset at you for criticizing them, and will dislike you even more if you were right.