Honest communication can be tough to come by

Last week I posted about the importance of letting new ideas bubble up, instead of trickle down. About how it's important to listen to your customers (or attendees, or in my case, hopefully readers) if you want to make positive change happen. Then I remembered something that happened at an industry event earlier this year, something that's happened a bunch of times before and since, and am reminded of why this doesn't always work.

This guy comes up to me at a reception. It's someone I interview pretty frequently, and I very much respect his opinions. He says lots of nice things about Medical Meetings, and my work. Then he lowered his voice and steered me into a quiet corner. "I hate to say this, but there's something you should be considering," he said, sotto voce. And gave me a few points about things he thinks we could be doing better, apologizing all the while. Despite my effusive thanks, he kept on apologizing. It happened to me again a week or so ago. I was interviewing someone on the phone, and he said something like, "I really appreciate that you try to get it right, and most often do." So of course, I dig in like a terrier after a mole: What are we getting wrong? But he wouldn't answer me because he doesn't want to hurt my feelings. When I finally dragged it out of him, it turned out to be something that's a matter of perspective, his being that of someone who's been in the industry for decades, disaproving of the opinion we published of someone who is newer to the industry. I happen to disagree that we "get it wrong" when we include information from the latter as well as the former, but that's neither here nor there. We need to know that there's a disconnect between the experience levels, and work harder to show ways they can learn from each other, rather than just putting the perspectives out there.

But the real point of this ramble is that our "customers" don't want to hurt our feelings by pointing out what they really want from us. I appreciate people wanting to be nice and all, but how can I improve if you don't let me know my flaws?

I can't speak for anyone else, but I'd rather you be honest than nice. If something I'm doing stinks, I want to know it. Even if it just smells a day or two past the sell-date, I want to know it. You don't have to be mean about it, but I sure would appreciate your honesty because without it, I'm flying blind. Of course, I love to hear the good stuff, but bad is OK too.

Wouldn't you want to know if people really disagreed with your choice of keynoter, or F&B, or whatever, rather than having them gush about how wonderful everything was, then not come back to next year's meeting? I know I would.

Which is probably why the second point I made in the previous post is a more important one—walking in your customers' shoes to find out what causes the blisters, as well as what helps your ankles look thin—because, unless you're very lucky, they may not be able to bring themselves to tell you. They'll just buy their shoes elsewhere.

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