Hear what you don't want to hear

People want to get along and avoid drama. Therefore it's easy to hear the words you want to hear and not hear the words you don't want to hear. Sounds good - but it's not.

Hearing what you want to hear hinders your ability to design a better USER EXPERIENCE of yourself.

What you really want is to hear what you don't want to hear.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I accompanied my wife to a fitness instructor training event. The trainees, mostly with fitness instruction experience, were presenting mock five minute classes for feedback from the instructors and other trainees. It's fun to watch them perform. Everyone has a different style - some are laid back, some are energetic and some are drill-instructor types. But everyone made errors in communication which most Charisma Artists, trained to think of the world from a USER EXPERIENCE perspective, could easily see and hear.

But little of that was reflected in the crucial feedback the onlookers were asked to share. It was all encouraging: "You are awesome. Just keep going and you'll be a superstar!"

What a load of crap. Some of these people might earn a living in fitness instruction but none will become masters. They didn't want to hear what they didn't want to hear. You could see it on their faces which were painted with hope.

At no time, did I hear: "In what ways did I suck?"

Too bad. Because in-what-ways-we-suck is just the sort of question we all need to ask in those moments when people are being NICE instead of honest.

Don't get me wrong, nice is great - sometimes. And being nice is the best route when that's what people want. But when you're dealing with important stuff like your career and other people's money, you have to muster up the guts to consider yourself dispassionately from a USER EXPERIENCE perspective and search out the words you don't want to hear.

Let people know they can be HONEST with you. Say, "I'd love to hear negative feedback. Tell me what I can do to improve and share anything that you didn't like, even if it seems nit picky or mean. You can't hurt my feelings. This is the way I improve."

Do that and you have a chance at mastery. Do not and you will all die today. (sorry, just watched Braveheart for the hundredth time)

I've met a few masters in business, art and service. The difference between them and everyone else seems to be they don't give a shit about platitudes. They are more interested in honest feedback from the USERS of their work.

There's probably a formula in there such as greatness = honesty/ego * effort.

And note that the more experienced and acclaimed your skills become the more you have to insist people give you negative feedback or find a way to trick it out of them. Avoid the temptation to bask in your glory - a sure sign of topping out. Keep humble and keep growing. Mastery is a life long pursuit.

Eventually I was asked by the instructor to give the trainees feedback. They didn't know me from a knot in a tree but that was okay. They just needed honesty.  I went in on a poor girl biting her nails after demonstrating her skills.

"I'm not a fitness professional," I said. "But I've have taken a lot of classes from many different professionals. I can speak as a user of your service. I like your vibe. I like your voice. But you have a lot of dead air. When I go to a fitness class I want to be distracted from my pain. I want to be entertained or informed or something. I should not be bored. Don't just set up the exercises. I can do that myself. Give me more. It's competitive fitness market out there. You got to provide more value for your clients. Fill the space with more. You might try, not just telling me what to do but what to think and feel while I'm doing  it. Make me laugh or give me a story. Don't leave me hanging in pain and bored."

To her credit the girl didn't cry. She nodded and seemed grateful to hear something objective. Maybe I had misjudged her and she wanted to be a master. Good news.

This opened the flood gates and other people began to chime in with more honest feedback in the subsequent demonstrations and the whole thing became more productive IMO. People do want to improve. It's just they didn't realize the dynamic, didn't realize how biased the room was to act nice instead of acting true.

When was the last time you asked a friend or a client or a date to give you honest feedback? Highly recommended - even when it hurts.

I remember a girl from years ago. She was a cute redhead with freckles over her entire body, a dimpled smile and a knack for drawing. She was 18 or 19 years old. Completely my type.

We went out on a couple dates which, I thought went well. But then she stopped returning my calls.

I hounded her. I called her four times a day. I talked to her roommate. I dropped by her place. I indulged in borderline stalking.

Finally, probably just to get rid of me, the girl called me back.

I had one question for her. "What did I do wrong?"

She paused for what seemed a long time then said, "Honestly?"

"Sure. I'm not trying to get you to go out with me again. I've given that up. I just want to know what happened. Maybe you got back together with your boyfriend or maybe I was stupid. I just want to know for my own edification."

"Things went too fast too soon. You just seemed to want to have sex and that was all. You were pushy and demanding. I felt uncomfortable with you when we were alone. I'm just an old fashioned girl."

I didn't want to hear that. But yet I did. Because I was, and still am, going for mastery.

"That makes sense," I said. "Thank you for the honest feedback."

I hung up the phone and thought long and hard. I had imagined walking hand in hand on an autumn day with her, wrestling in piles of leaves and all that silly romantic stuff. I felt she got me wrong. And yet her feedback was true. I knew it.

I presumed, at the time, that I had to sleep with girls on the first date or they would grow bored. I realized this was a dumb idea and vowed to take a more balanced and natural-feeling approach in the future. And that led me to understand the importance of creating desire over everything else and a more modern approach to dating.

We all have EGO moments when we don't want to listen to objective truth about the way we interact with people. But if we want to design peek USER EXPERIENCE for our users we want to encourage people to tell us what we don't want to hear.

All the best, Wayne

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