In an age where a Tweet has the power to start a nuclear war, we know that words matter, right? As creatives our talents involve our ability to express ourselves, however it can be as much of a curse as it is a gift when not used correctly.
I want to share a story with you about how I forgot to put on my empathy hat & compassion cape on when my first client asked me for feedback on their album. I’ll save you some trouble and cut to the chase – it was the beginning of the end for our relationship.
I was 21 years old and my business partner & I had signed our first band to our new label. We were so excited to put out their debut album.
Over the holidays, while I was away with family, I received files of their tracks to review. They were about to get mastered and they wanted our feedback. Without consulting with my business partner, I let my excitement overtake me and I started typing away on my Blackberry in front of my family. After all, work doesn’t wait when you’re building an empire, right?
I jumped right to it:
“Track 1 vocals should be done over”
“Track 2 is great, but your diction could be more clear, and the drums need to stand out more.”
“Love Track 4 but it shouldn’t come so early on in the album, let’s move this to the end. And I’d rethink the instrumentation on the bridge.”
Those weren’t my exact quotes, but you get the gist. And there were a lot of notes. A lot. I took my role as executive very seriously and I had a vision and I made it known. The moment I hit send was the moment I lost their trust in me. It was only a few months later that we ended our relationship with the band.
While my email was not the sole reason we parted ways, it definitely changed the dynamic and here’s why:
1. I forgot about the people behind the mic. I treated as if I was taking someone’s research paper and red-lining my corrections. This wasn’t a paper. This was art. This was something they had poured their blood, sweat, and tears into and I was extremely sterile about it.
2. I forgot to come out of the gate smiling. I didn’t lead with a litany of things I loved about it. I didn’t lead with how amazing I thought it was. I just went down a bullet list of “fixes” with no thought to first talking to my business partner and coming from a place of, “what would you think about…” Instead, I made demands.
3. I fell for false urgency and my tone was lost in the rush. I got the email and I jumped on it. I didn’t sit with it. I didn’t enjoy time with my family. I didn’t call the band when I had more free time to go over it. This is why setting boundaries is so important. I didn’t realize it at the time, but because I chose to answer it right away, the stress of cutting into family time and the guilt of knowing I was being rude allowed certain feelings to seep into my tone (although I was totally oblivious to it) and those that received the email picked up on it right away.
4. I took something that was super important and diminished it to an email. When it comes to art, or anything that has emotional layers to it – get offline. Have the talk in person. Call the other party. Don’t allow your words to be misread or misconstrued. We all place our own insecurities on what others are trying to say and when the words are written we are given more freedom to put our own spin on someone else’s intentions.
So before you have that important conversation (whether with a client, family member, friend, etc.) check yourself.
Are you in the right mindset? Are you thinking of how they will take what you have to say? Are you discussing it in the right environment?
There’s no fear about burn bridges when you remember there’s another human being on the other end of your words. Always remember connections over contacts and you’ll find your relationships bloom with a lot less struggle.