In seeking out meaningful criticism, a major stumbling block is our own unconscious filter that edits out or discounts what we don’t want to hear. Just as we all have that little inner voice that is constantly picking at us (the Criticizer), we also have another inner voice whose job is to protect our egos from pain (the Protector). That one kicks in when we feel attacked or slighted, and it sends us straight into defensive mode.
I think of defensiveness as a form of deafness because it keeps me from hearing things I may need to know. The Protector is not always my friend.
So part of our job as creatives is to keep the Protector under control. (The Criticizer is a subject for another time.) The Protector does not care about objectively useful information; the only thing on its radar is your ego. We need to be alert to the times when it becomes active, because that is a sign that we may be receiving an important message. If we can insert our intention to listen between the message and the Protector, we have an opportunity to assess the worth of the input and get something useful, regardless of whether it’s pleasant or painful.
In marketing our professional services, most of us assert that we are “good listeners.” Truly good listening means hearing the bad news as well as the good, accurately and objectively. This requires vigilance as well as professionalism, because the Protector is always on duty. Clear, unvarnished input is a gift because it is the meat of what we need to progress.
Didn’t get that proposal accepted? Find out why. All your comps were rejected? Get the specifics. Try to get around the bland fob-offs (“Your work didn’t meet our needs at this time”) (“We had a different direction in mind”) and see if you can get some substantive input so you can do better next time. Even if it is not forthcoming, you can gain some useful insights as to whether you want to engage with that entity again.
Critical input is, well, critical. Go get some.