If you ask for an opinion, you’re probably going to get one.
So before you ask, here are four suggestions you may find helpful to keep in mind.
1) Make sure an opinion is what you actually want
This one can be a little tricky because sometimes we think we want an honest opinion about our work when what we’re really looking for is a word of encouragement or a little validation. If this is what you’re looking for, it’s important to be honest with yourself and others about it. Instead of asking, “what do you think of my skill or my project?” try something like “I know that my skills are not up to par and that I have a lot to learn, but I’m losing motivation here and I could use a bit of perspective to keep me going. Would you mind looking at my work and telling me if I have anything positive to build on?” There’s nothing wrong with asking for a pep talk. We all have moments when we need someone to give us a reason to keep trying. If you’re having one of those moments, be frank about it.
2) Make sure you’re capable of tolerating feedback you may dislike
John Maxwell has a saying I love: “Get over yourself. Everyone else has.” If you don’t like having the flaws in your work pointed out, start practicing the art of getting over yourself while there’s still a chance. Being great, or even merely good, at anything requires resilience. You stand no hope of achieving your goals if you allow your spirit to be broken anytime someone tells you that you’re not as good at something as you wish you were.
In an interview on storytelling, Ira Glass, the producer and host of This American Life, identifies this ability to endure the gap between where you want you be and where you actually are as the definitive difference maker in those who go on to be successful artists and creators:
Nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish somebody had told this to me — is that all of us who do creative work … we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, OK? It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste — the thing that got you into the game — your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you, you know what I mean?
A lot of people never get past that phase. A lot of people at that point, they quit. And the thing I would just like say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be — they knew it fell short, it didn’t have the special thing that we wanted it to have.
And the thing I would say to you is everybody goes through that. And for you to go through it, if you’re going through it right now, if you’re just getting out of that phase — you gotta know it’s totally normal.
Being imperfect is normal and so is having it pointed out. If you ask someone for their opinion, don’t take it as a personal affront if their opinion isn’t flattering. When you treat constructive criticism as an attack, you lose in two major ways: 1) you stop learning and 2) you build a reputation for being someone who can’t handle the truth which results in people withholding from you the very truths you need to know in order to succeed.
3) Make sure the person you’re asking is someone whose experience and expertise you sincerely respect
As politically incorrect as it is to say it, every opinion doesn’t count. Some people have no clue what they’re talking about when it comes to certain topics. That may sound like a mean thing to say, but it’s a necessary fact to acknowledge if you plan on not wasting your time. You’ll have to make your own judgment calls about who to ask when you need advice, but make sure you’re using some sort of standard. When I seek out opinions on a subject, I prefer to ask people who have demonstrated their knowledge and skill through the creation of works that genuinely impress me. While it’s true that you can learn something from everyone, it’s not true that everyone has an equal level of insight in the areas where you need help. The most common mistake I see people make in this area is that of limiting the counsel they seek to people they like. If someone wants to be a writer for instance, they may ask their friends, classmates, or parents to give them feedback on their writing without ever asking anyone who has actual experience writing, editing, or publishing. While it may not hurt to get your cousin’s opinion, your best friend’s opinion or your neighbor’s opinion, it will definitely hurt if you fail to seek out the opinions of those who are actually succeeding at the things you wish to do. Ask your family and friends for their opinions as much as you want if it helps to do so, but don’t treat that as a substitute for gleaning unique insights from the achievers in your desired field.
4) Make sure you’re willing to endure the opinion-giver’s style of delivery
If you ask a particular person for an opinion, then you’re not just going to get an opinion. You’re going to get an opinion plus a specific style of delivery. Some people are very direct. Some people are indirect. Some people are really good at sandwiching their criticisms with compliments and some people will give you a piece of their mind without any regard for how uncomfortable it makes you feel. Some people will be very concise. Some people will give you a three-hour lecture that puts you to sleep. Some people will give you advice as if they’re annoyed by the fact that you need help. Some people will give advice with the glee of a person whose been waiting all week for someone to ask them for help. Everyone is different. Fortunately, we live in a world where it’s easier than it’s ever been to connect with experts. If you have a preferred communication style, seek out someone who has a reputation for communicating in that style. There are many ways to learn and there are many different personality types who can help you in your journey. Optimize your learning process by paying attention to the kinds of people you have the easiest time learning from.