As a writer, I want the readers of my books to be happy. As a teacher, I want my students to be happy. As a keynote speaker I want my audiences to be happy. Having these folks happily satisfied after they have spent their time with me matters to me. Right or wrong, it just does.
In order to accomplish this, however, I must remain responsive to feedback. But if you are going to be the type of person that welcomes feedback, you are also going to have to 1) develop a thick skin and 2) recognize when it’s time to listen to your own thoughts on the matter as opposed to the thoughts of others.
When it comes to developing thick skin, well, for me it didn’t really arrive in my life until being thin-skinned about matters proved to be too much of a detriment to the goals I was seeking to accomplish. Here’s a little tid-bit about how I have found my own human nature works.
I’ll give a speech, do a keynote, write a work or what-not, and people will compliment me, want me to sign their books, chat more after the program, whatever. But if one person wrinkles their nose, shrugs their shoulders and points out where I wasn’t really all that great, I take it personally.
And when I go home later that night, do I remember the good stuff? Do I remember the praise? Do I remember all the compliments, even if they outweighed the critics 50 to 1? Of course not — I remember the criticism.
And I dwell on it.
The fact is, if you are going to put yourself “out there”, if you are going to “try”, if you are going to take a stand, make a speech, author a novel or whatever, you have to know that 1) no matter what you can do, it can be improved — which is why I find it so essential to listen to feedback and 2) know that some people just like to criticize for the sake of being critical (as opposed to doing it for the sake of being constructive).
It’s like a double-bind. I need to listen to the feedback but human nature makes me feel like I only want to hear the good stuff. And hearing just the good stuff is potentially ruinous. How can I improve my efforts if I don’t hear where I am falling short in my efforts?
This is why I know I need thick skin. When I show my books to people and ask for their opinion, I want the truth. If it ain’t working, I need to know it so I can make it work. It’s not about my feelings; it’s about the material. Having published multiple books has brought me to this doorstep of understanding.
When you stop taking it personally, you open up avenues to improve your craft in innumerable ways. That goes for almost anyone — teachers, writers, administrators. People are SO defensive about what they are doing that they often tune out to the ways that they can do the things they are doing better. Hey, no one’s perfect.
It’s why I have tried to become more thick-skinned. It makes me a better professional.
BTW, young writers are often hard to have conversations with because they take criticism of their material as personal criticism. Look, I admire anyone who straps up, sits down and cranks out a book. Hats off to ’em… it’s hard stuff. But if it’s not great and you only want people to tell you it’s great instead of ways it can be improved, then you’re setting yourself up for trouble.
The best administrators, educators, businesspeople and so on want feedback. They want reflection. They want to improve. Even if it’s a wee bit salty on the soul, to get better, one must hear about the “issues”.
After all, is there really any such thing as a “master” who does not still have room to grow?