How to Listen to Feedback

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!

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