Hard-to-Ask Questions Sometimes Provide Unexpected Answers

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Have you ever typed an email, erased it, and typed it again as you fight with yourself internally about whether or not to send it because you fear the response? That’s where I was yesterday.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m in the process of reading The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey. In one section, Covey talks about how constantly learning helps build trust with others because it shows that you’re willing to grow and change. And one way to figure out what type of changes you’d benefit from most is to seek feedback from those around you.

Feedback Equals Growth

This got me thinking about my writing business and whether I’m doing what I can to create happy, loyal clients. I’ve been working with most of them for years, so I know I must be doing something right, yet I’ve still had this nagging voice at the back of my head telling me that I’m not doing enough. That I’m somehow subpar to many of the other writers out there.

So, yesterday, I sat down to write each of my clients an email asking three key questions:

  • What do you enjoy about my writing services?
  • In what areas do you feel I could improve?
  • Are there any services that I could add that would make it more beneficial or easier to work with me?

I had the first email all typed out then erased it completely in a state of panic. What if my clients responded in a way that proved my fears to be true? What if I am, in fact, a subpar writer? Worse yet, what if they pointed out areas where I lacked that I didn’t even realize? Could I mentally handle that type of news?

After taking a few deep breaths and calming myself down, I reminded myself that if I valued my clients as much as I said, their feedback was important to me. And if I was somehow letting them down, the sooner I rectified the situation, the more likely it was that I would keep them as clients long-term. So, I typed the email up again and hit send. I followed this process for all 10 of my regular writing clients. Then came the really hard part. Sitting and waiting for my responses.

Bracing for the Worst

The first response came about an hour later. I’m pretty sure I held my breath when opening the email. As I waited for the page to load, I kept telling myself that it was going to be okay. I would survive the response and, in knowing where I was falling short, I could make the necessary changes to keep my clients happy for years to come.

When reading the answer to my first question about what they enjoy about my writing services, I was pleased to learn that they find me to be a “thorough writer that does not require a lot of editing.” This was a pleasant surprise because this was the one client that I felt edited my content most. So, I was expecting the complete opposite response.

Then I moved on to the next answer, the one about where they feel I could improve. That was the question I was really interested in learning the response. Their feedback? “Cannot think of any.” What? Seriously? They didn’t find me lacking as a writer?

To this, I did what most people would do. I didn’t believe them.

I do realize that I don’t totally suck, that I am capable of turning words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs, but everyone has room for improvement. So, I didn’t really take their response as proof of being a good writer. Instead, I shrugged it off and anxiously awaited my next response, hoping it would tell me where I actually lacked.

Why Do We Always Look for the Negative When It Comes to Ourselves?

Isn’t this what we often do as humans, shrug off positive feedback while looking for the negative? It’s like we want to prove the ways in which we are “less than,” even if it means totally disregarding everything that we do right.

I think it’s time we quit doing that to ourselves. Yes, there is still great value in finding out where we can learn and grow, but there is even greater value in understanding our personal (and professional) worth. Not that we need to seek constant reinforcement, but reaching out to others from time to time and asking their feedback helps open our eyes to the things we are doing that provide value to others.

I get that this is an incredibly scary prospect because you may sometimes get responses you didn’t expect. For instance, I learned from one client that they wanted more humorous content. This is out of the norm for me because I write for a lot of professional magazines and universities who simply want me to present the facts. But it’s good to know that this client is looking for something a little lighter.

Another said that, while they were happy with my services, it would be great to become more familiar with their products. Better yet, they would give me access to their online courses if I was willing to invest the time. Access to more inside information about health and wellness? Hell yes! I’m in!

My point is that sometimes hard-to-ask questions provide unexpected, yet pleasant, responses. Are there any questions you could ask the people in your life that would provide more insight as to how you may be able to grow?

It isn’t easy to sit and wait for the response, but if these are relationships you truly care about, it’s incredibly helpful to know how you can provide more value. Plus, when others see that you’re willing to take additional action to strengthen your personal or professional relationship, it really goes a long way.

That said, you also have to be willing to act on their responses. You can’t just throw out the question and then say, “Okay. Thanks for your input. I’ll file that away.” You actually have to take what they say and use it to grow (as long as it is a reasonable response, of course).

This was a good exercise for me in that 1) it helped me identify how I can provide even more value to my clients and 2) it increased my self-confidence because my clients are overall happy with my work. I hope it provides this type of value to you as well!

(Looking for ways to continue to build your grit? Subscribe to this blog so you never miss a post!)

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