We’ve all been on one side or the other of this equation: we’ve done something new, something creative, and we’re really proud of it. We ask our friends to get involved, and tell us what they think, and the friend says, “Wow! That’s really great. I like it. I like it.”

You, as the creative type, are crushed. Nothing sounds more like “This is horrible, and I’m not really getting it, nor do I think I have even one good thing to say about it” the way “I like it. I like it” does.

On the other side, maybe you’re the appreciator, and you’re thinking, “I know absolutely nothing about Klesmer music, so how do I know if it’s good or bad?” So what do you tell your friend? Here are some thoughts:

  • Feedback helps improve things- It’s pretty rare that someone’s project will be 100% perfect. Giving someone a compliment or two, followed by some food for thought on improving the effort is a great way to help the creator understand another person’s perspective, and perhaps better develop their effort for next time.
  • This is not the “feedback sandwich”- Which is: “I like you, this sucks, but I like you.” Instead, be sure you give all your good notes, and if you offer criticism, make sure you say it in a way that’s actionable. “I liked the pieces. I could’ve used a little more balance between the different audio segments. I had to really crank it for the fourth one, and then turn it down fast for the last.”
  • Give actionable advice- Saying “this could really use some improvement,” is about as good as saying, “I like whales, because I do.” Instead, tell the creator of the project, “Your software really is slick. I’m a keyboard gal, myself. Do you have keyboard shortcuts? Is that coming in a future release?”
  • Sometimes, it’s a matter of tastes- Be on the lookout for when something is strictly a matter of taste. You might not like leopard print upholstry, but if your old college buddy says he feels like the old Dokken days, don’t stomp on him. Just say, “Whoa. That’s certainly your style, Joe.” If they’re clever, they know.
  • It’s about them, not you- Leave your biography out of it. If you don’t like something because of when you were twelve and the babysitter locked you in the closet and blared Enya for hours, just acknowledge all the positives you can muster, and simply state that it’s not your style directly, but you could see where people might connect with it.
  • Imagine the crowd at large, and not just yourself- If you’re truly fishing for ways to empower the creative type, think of 100 people getting a chance to experience this product or service or experience. Tell your creative friend, “Wow, sailors who like Anne Murray and who snowboard are really going to love your new boot warmers.” It’s a good compliment, but says nothing about you directly.
  • Be as honest as you can- again, and finally, don’t be an ass. Try to couch things in a way that you affirm your friendship (or relationship) with the person, but do everything you can to be helpful. Sometimes, creative types are throwing a hundred prototypes out there to see what makes sense, what sticks. If you’re just nodding like a bobble head at all of them, what’s that going to do for your creative friend? Be true.

Ultimately, the goal of most creative class types is to do something that they can be proud of, and that others will find useful. Your participation in the process is valuable, and more so than your blanket phrases and kindness. Be true, be courteous, and be receptive to the needs and hopes of your creative friends.

Oh, and if you’re the creative, realize that other people won’t always get where you’re going, because they can’t see all the details that you’ve still got stuck in your very active head. That’s okay, too.

–Chris Brogan just helped a friend launch a creative new podcast called The Great Big Small Business Show. He would love for you to try this lesson in person, after you sample the friend’s project. Other times, Chris writes at [chrisbrogan.com]

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