“For the new entrepreneurs who are just getting started out there, what’s one piece of advice that you’d always recommend?”
“In terms of advice… it’s very important to actively seek out and listen very carefully to negative feedback. This is something that people tend to avoid because it’s painful. But I think this is a very common mistake – to NOT actively seek out and listen to negative feedback.”
When explaining how he implements this in his own life, Musk explains, “When friends get a product, I say, ‘Don’t tell me what you like, tell me what you don’t like.’ Otherwise, your friend won’t tell you what he doesn’t like.”
Musk is right. Feedback can be painful.
You think your new idea is brilliant and share it with excitement. Then the listener sits there, unimpressed.
Since we want to avoid pain, it’s tempting to exclusively focus on positive feedback (and the behaviors that reinforce it).
But if you’re trying to develop high-quality content or an innovative idea, then focusing on positive feedback is the worst thing you can do.
Seeking Negative Feedback Is Critical For Creative Work And Experimentation
“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.”
– Elon Musk
I used to avoid feedback.
I think the fear of negative feedback prevented me from taking action altogether.
But as I began building relationships with other entrepreneurs, they’d naturally share their opinions about my content and ideas.
Since I knew they had good intentions, I was more willing to receive it.
This eased me into accepting the value of negative feedback.
Now, I proactively ask my friends what they don’t like about my content and ideas.
And they’ll be brutally honest with me!
Here’s my friend responding to one of my articles.
For anyone who wants to improve FAST, I recommend coaxing people for negative feedback.
Many times, people just won’t give it to you. They don’t want to offend you or hurt your feelings, so they shy away from how they actually feel about it.
This withholding of negative feedback is especially true with your friends.
By proactively coaxing them for their honest opinion, you’re letting them know that it’s okay to be honest. You won’t take it personally.
This form of feedback has delivered several insights for my content and brand.
Receiving negative feedback is critical when you’re doing any sort of creative work that requires experimentation.
The Reason Why You Don’t Seek Negative Feedback
A big reason why feedback is challenging is that it’s easy to attach our self-worth to it.
When we attach our self-worth to incoming feedback, two possible scenarios arise:
- If we get positive feedback, we frame it as a “win.” We feel better about ourselves and are more motivated to continue experimenting and taking action. Yet, we can take this too far and become addicted to validation, blinding us to receiving constructive criticism.
- If we get negative feedback, we frame it as a “loss.” We feel worse about ourselves and are less motivated to continue experimenting and taking action. If we maintain this perception of failure, it becomes a downward spiral.
In other words, we’re riding the emotional rollercoaster of content creation.
Here’s another way to think about it.
Every time someone says, “I don’t like your content. Your idea needs some work.”
What you end up hearing is, “I don’t like you. You’re not good enough.”
If negative feedback reinforces low self-esteem, then you’ll always avoid it. And improvement is nearly impossible.
When we experience “wins” and “losses,” there’s a complex cascade of both physiological and neurochemical changes within your body.
Neuroscientist and clinical psychologist Ian Robertson explains partly what happens when you win, explaining, “Winning increases the dopamine receptors in the brain, which makes you smarter and more bold.”
In biology, this phenomenon is called The Winner Effect.
Dopamine plays a vital role in learning comprehension and retention. Elevated states of dopamine help facilitate improved performance and heightened learning potential.
So when you’re trying to develop content or an innovative idea, you’ll want to be as resourceful as possible.
But when you’re losing (or more accurately – perceiving something as a loss), your physiology and neurochemistry changes and makes you less resourceful.
Experiencing this “loser effect” isn’t helpful when receiving negative feedback. It’s meant to be constructive, not destructive.
Bottom line: it’s critical to learn how to receive negative feedback without triggering this “loser effect” inside us.
I, for one, have struggled with this a lot. And I have a tip that’ll help you get better with this. But first, let me speak to a common objection that pops up.
If Winning Reinforces More Winning, Why Shouldn’t We Focus On Positive Feedback?
If we become more resourceful when we “win”, why wouldn’t we focus on positive feedback?
It’s a good question.
And I’ll start by saying that I don’t recommend hammering someone with feedback to diminish them. By using social intelligence, we can discern whether or not we’re speaking too harshly.
If I can see that my friends interpret my feedback destructively, I switch tactics quickly.
But here’s the reality.
If you were to take that approach – and only focus on receiving positive feedback – then sure, maybe you’d feel better in the short-term. But you’d miss out on feedback that can help you improve in the long-term.
By focusing on receiving negative feedback, you can improve the quality of your content, ideas, and ultimately your life.
Here’s How You Can Start Interpreting Negative Feedback As A “Win”
I gravitate towards Elon Musk’s advice – seek negative feedback.
But this only works if you first detach your self-worth from the incoming feedback. This process takes time, but it’s something you can learn. And eventually, you’ll naturally seek it because you know it’ll help you get better.
Negative feedback CAN be a win.
As Ryan Holiday says, “The obstacle is the way.”
Here’s a quick way to get started.
Begin seeking your friend’s and family’s honest opinion. The people you trust.
Proactively ask them for their honest feedback on your content or innovative idea.
This request may be uncomfortable at first. But eventually, you’ll train yourself to realize that this negative feedback is intended to help you grow and succeed.
It’s much easier to learn how to do this with people you trust instead of strangers.
With practice, you’ll begin cultivating a healthy relationship to negative feedback. You’ll let it become a more common occurrence (instead of avoiding it or tuning it out).
You can now start iterating and improving at an accelerated rate because you’re receiving valuable data for how you can improve.
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