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MCLEOD: Learn which feedback to listen to and which to ignore

Lisa McLeod

Lisa McLeod

Are you listening to the wrong feedback?

All feedback is not valid. A big problem with feedback is that we often listen to the wrong sources.

For example, my friend Julie felt called to make handmade cards.

From an early age she crafted masterpieces. She spent hours on each card; they were true works of art. By the time she got to college, her sorority sisters were so enamored of her cards they became a status symbol.

At the encouragement of her friends and family, she decided to exhibit her cards at a gift show. Her exquisite handcrafted masterpieces had a retail price of $10.

A well-known buyer for a major mass market retailer took her aside to give her some advice, "Honey," he said, "You're designing for a world that doesn't exist."

He told her that no one would ever pay $10 for a card. He said, "Your sorority sisters might like them; but you'll never sell them to a retailer."

She was crushed. He was a major buyer in the industry, if he didn't think she could make it, he was probably right.

So she gave up her dream and became a social worker. But she continued to make cards for family and friends, who continued to rave about them, frame them and showcase them.

Then one day, 10 years after the show where she gave up her dream, a friend introduced her to a buyer at Neiman Marcus. Six months later her cards, now priced at $15 each, were being sold at Neiman Marcus stores in six major markets.

Apparently, the world where people pay double digits for a fabulous handmade cards did exist. The traditional buyer just didn't know about it.

So what's the lesson here?

Persevere? Follow your heart? Ignore the critics?

Actually it's a bigger lesson: Listen to the true experts.

My friend made the mistake many people do; she chose to listen to the wrong authority source.

She ignored the valid feedback, from the real experts: Her potential market, the sorority girls who loved her cards. Yet she made life-altering decisions based on the feedback from someone didn't have knowledge of her market.

How many of us have done the same?

We let a well-meaning (yet unknowledgeable) parent tell us that we'll never make a living with our art, music or web skills. Or a true expert gives us a critique and we ignore it.

Or the flip side: Someone tells us we're good, when in reality they have no knowledge of the subject.

One of the secrets of success is knowing which feedback to listen to, and which feedback to ignore.

Here are three litmus tests to determine whether your feedback giver is a valid source:

  1. Do they know the subject?

They don't have to be in a position of authority, but they do need to know the terrain. Someone who has read thousands of manuscripts is a better judge of your writing than your mom, sorry.

  1. Do they want someone to succeed?

They don't have to want you to succeed. But "negative nellies," aren't helpful to anyone. Casting agents may reject a lot of people but it's because they're looking for the one.

  1. Is it about you, or about them?

One type of feedback that has no validity whatsoever is unsolicited feedback from people who love to hear themselves talk. People who critique your parenting in the grocery store fall into this category.

Feedback can be helpful or crushing; choose your sources wisely.

Lisa Earle McLeod is the author of several books, including "Selling with Noble Purpose: How to Drive Revenue and Do Work That Makes You Proud."