People are too nice. You’re worried about rejection and criticism? I think it is more important to worry about the opposite, that people aren’t giving you the honest feedback you need.
Even when most people do give criticism, it is usually worded to be as unoffending as possible, often omitting true feelings.
I’ve delivered speeches where I could tell the evaluator didn’t like my speech. But they bit their tongue and offered me mild suggestions with support. I’ve requested feedback for projects I’ve worked on, this blog and other outlets. Sure there are a few jerks that will insult everything you do and your mother at the same time, but they are a rarity in a society which preaches politeness over honesty.
Why does this happen?
I believe there are three reasons people don’t give honest feedback:
- They don’t want to damage relationships
- They want to be supportive
- They don’t realize they are lying to you
This “white-lie” feedback isn’t always an outright deception. If you ask for feedback or suggestions, people will offer them. But often the feedback offered will be easily fixable tips, to give the impression that everything else is okay and you just need to tweak the details. When there can be more difficult problems that get completely ignored.
Other times the sentiment is correct but the intensity isn’t. People will gush about how they loved it, when they just liked it mildly. Love and like may not matter if your working on a hobby but in any pursuit you care about results, love and like mean a helluva lot.
So how do you actually get honest feedback?
- Accept Criticism - All of It. Yeah, getting a harsh review sucks. But I can take that temporary sting if it means I am given valuable tools for improvement. No, not all criticisms are useful nor should you bend to all of them. But if you cast yourself as a person who can take all forms of criticism without returning hate, you are more likely to get it when you need it.
- Ask the Right Questions. Even if you ask people to be brutal with feedback, most still won’t. Don’t blame them, they have been conditioned by society to take your emotional state into consideration. Ask the right questions so you can get honest answers even in the veil of white lies. Good examples:
- What do you hate most about (my performance/product/etc.)? <- Force honesty by leaving no room for sugarcoating.
- What is this missing to become great instead of just good? <- Assuming they gave you initial positivity, push a little harder.
- Will you buy it? <- Separate the love from the like by asking for a purchase.
- Read Between Lines. Look for what they didn’t say, not what they did. I’ll admit this can take practice, but when you receive feedback where you question the sincerity, notice what wasn’t said. If you wrote a how-to book, did they actually use the advice? If you gave a persuasive speech did they enjoy it or did it change their opinion?
- Pull Out Gradual Honesty. Some people need encouragement to give you their honest opinion. Make it clear that you are okay with the harshest of their remarks and give them an opportunity to reveal more.
- The Faceless Net. Post your ideas on forums. Forums are a great way to receive honest feedback because there isn’t face-to-face interaction. If people don’t like you, they’ll say so. Will they give your ideas a fair chance? Probably not. They will rip into them will all their bias and judgement. That’s good, it’s exactly what the world will do. You might as well prepare.
- Develop Trust. Cultivate honest feedback with a few mentors or friends. Slowly condition them to give you the truth even when it hurts you by demonstrating it will strengthen, not damage, the bond.
- Give ‘em the Whole Story. Break down your need for complete honesty to the other person. Explain how you’ve noticed feedback not matching up with results, so you want the other person to be as candid as possible, even if it sounds rude.
- Ask For Action. Ask them to buy, recommend or promote it. If they aren’t willing to do that, they probably think it is good, not great.
- Find Simon’s. Seek out people that you know will give complete honesty.
- Test Results, Not Feedback. The best feedback comes from the world. Test your actual results rather than relying on advice. Want to know whether your writing is good? Start a blog or publish a novel. Want to know whether your product is good? Start selling a prototype in limited quantities.
You have two options. Look for praise or look for honesty. Neither is wrong, but they have different outcomes. Praise will make you feel good when results aren’t important. Who cares if your art sells if it’s just a hobby? But when results matter, look for honesty. Despite it’s ego-crushing and painful blows it will teach you.