Article as seen on Forbes.com

Some of the most common questions I get are “What do you think of our messaging?” or “What do you think of our new website?” As you might imagine, most of the time what the person wants to hear is validation that they accomplished something great with their efforts. They want me to be so impressed that I’ll write about it in a future article. It should be captured and preserved in a business museum for all to experience for generations to come. However, that’s the worst type of feedback you can get.

I’m fortunate to have received great input from some talented people over the years. These advisors where not shy about giving me their honest input, rather just validating my accomplishment. Rest assured, they’d be brutally honest if there was room for improvement. As a result, they gave me the opportunity to fine tune and improve. There’s a time and place for validation. For example, when your significant other asks “Do I look nice?” they may not actually be seeking brutal honesty at that moment. In that situation, saying they look beautiful or handsome is all that they are seeking. But, this business you are in will not benefit from little white lies that make you feel better.

When You Ask For Advice, Are You Seeking Validation Or Real Input?

What Makes for Great Advice

I just had the pleasure of attending Business Gets Personal featuring Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Dave Ramsey in New York. Part of the program was a “hot-seat” session where business owners shared their challenge and sought advice from the talented panel. It would have been easy for the speakers to have said “Good job. I think you’re on the right track.” When the husband and wife team from the Goulet Pen Company asked about strategies for growing their already successful company, Seth Godin asked “Why do you want to grow? Bigger isn’t always better?” When asked about how to engage millennials, Gary Vaynerchuk said “Just ask them! Go up to them and ask what they enjoy and motivates them?” (OK – I paraphrased Gary’s comments a bit – those you know him will understand what I mean). The bottom line is that the speakers challenged the entrepreneur about the underlying questions even before they considered the answer. Dave Ramsey suggested that the best way to deal with problem employees is to not hire them in the first place. He said “Hire slow and fire fast.” Gary had a slightly different take when he said “Hire fast, and fire fast.” The value in their responses was the contradiction in itself. Each presented their opinion, leaving it to the business owner to make an informed decision.

Too often, though, we just want someone to say how great we are.

Tough Love Makes You Better

Each time I come off of a stage after speaking, I have a pretty good sense of how I did. I am fortunate to consistently get high marks from audiences. Still, the first question I ask after every session is “What could have made it better?” Earlier this year, I was speaking at an event in Baltimore, Maryland. After an enthusiastic response to the session, many audience members came up to me to express their appreciation. I thanked each of them and asked what could have made it better. Many people in sequence said “It was great. I wouldn’t change a thing.” Joe Mechlinski, Bestselling author of Grow Regardless, CEO of Entrequest, and respected guru on growing and developing professional talent, was also in the audience. When I asked Joe immediately said “When you shared this one story, what if you had then asked the audience if they could think of a time in their recent past when they faced a similar situation?” Joe was absolutely right. It was a missed opportunity. Each time I present that concept today, I ask the question Joe suggested. I always smile when I see the audience have the “Aha moment” that I was missing before.

After the first Remarkable Growth Experience that we hosted in January 2014, we were flattered that 85% of the attendees said it was the best event they had attended. One of the participants, Owen Blevins of Focus Inbound wrote a detailed review of the event. In his article, he had a section called “What Could Use Some Attention.” He noted that the workbook was not up to the caliber of the rest of the two days. As you might imagine, that’s where we have focused our time for the upcoming program in November. Plus, with so many returning members, we know we have to raise the bar in each area even higher than before.

How Can You Get Good Advice

If you agree with the points above, that’s not enough. Here are some ideas about what you need to do to create an environment for valuable feedback.

  1. Surround Yourself With Contradiction: If you want everyone to agree with you, just invest in mirrors instead of people. Surround yourself with people with diversified backgrounds, perspectives, and risk profiles. In my prior business, I drove the business with one pedal, the accelerator. My COO preferred the brake. It was a valuable balance. When I said we should run, he would ask “in which direction and for what purpose?”
  2. Encourage Dissention: Employees and partners need to feel safe that their honest feedback won’t lead to resentment. Welcome their input.
  3. Respond with “Thank You” Remember that you are asking for input, not seeding authority. When you get input, just say “Thank you.” After you receive all of your input, then you can decide which advice makes the most sense for you and your business.

Getting validation might make you feel better in the short run, but critical advice is incredibly valuable and hard to find. Value those relationships and you might find yourself achieving outrageous success.

It’s Your Turn

When has candid, critical feedback helped you? When have you been asked for input knowing the other person just wanted validation? What happened?