I spent a great weekend with friends, talking and catching up.  This morning, I see one of them, Chris Brogan, dealing with critique about a webinar he’s running on Google +.  Chris has a large audience, so he deals with more than he average person’s amount of attention and critique.   I started thinking about who we decide to listen to, and who not; when do we care, when do we feel defensive, and when do we ignore the sideline chatter and focus on what matters most?  Here’s my guide to who I listen to and why- surprisingly, different people and their advice gets weighed differently.

1.  My Husband: Matt is a calm source of reason.  He’s not always right, but he’s good at asking me questions about things, probing, and I know if I can’t defend them, he’s got advice and information I have to consider.  He helps me work through problems and see things I may have been blind to by being too close to the situation.  But I also know he has his own prejudices, and I know when to ignore him as well.  All in all, he’s someone I have to listen to and weigh his advice, even if I don’t always agree.

2. My Mom: I don’t always agree with Mom, but I do know she always has my best interest at heart.  She’s also not shy about offering her opinion.  She can be a prickly critic and the one that hurts the most, but even if I know she’s dead wrong, I have to factor in that it comes from a place of caring and experience, so I filter Mom’s advice through that protective filter, always aware that my kids may feel the exact same way about me some day, if not already.

3. My Inner Circle:  I have a close circle of friends with whom I feel comfortable sharing my true self and  all those trials and tribulations of life.  I hope, pray and rely on them to tell me when I’m about to do something stupid, have plans that I can’t possibly execute on well, or otherwise have delusions of grandeur or moments of utter blindness. They act as sounding boards and give me feedback that is not only useful, it’s always making sure I stay on the right track.  They are my guardrails, keeping me on the road, and I know I can not only trust them, but that when I test a rail, they will adjust the “tension” so to speak from firm to flexible as needed.  We all need these folks in our lives, to help us set boundaries and operational metrics that keep life flowing forward.

4. The Professionals I Hire.  From doctors to lawyers to accountants, I know enough to ask for help when I need it, and head the advice I’m paying for unless it’s clearly off base, in which case I discuss it with them and try to provide them with a more full-scope picture of my life, so their advice takes all factors into account.  You have to remember people can only help you based upon what they know, and if they’re missing critical pieces of the puzzle, their advice won’t be as good or cover all the bases it would have otherwise.  Garbage in, garbage out, as they say.

4. Social friends:  I love my social friends and all the fun and joy they bring into my life.  I find out about new things, we enjoy each other’s company, and we move on the same path.  I take advice on many things from social friends, but they may not always be the first folks I’d go to for that serious, personal stuff that I don’t want everyone to know about, because we just don’t have that kind of relationship.  These folks are fantastic, but our social contract varies, and I try to make sure to never ask more of anyone than they are able or willing to give.

As we explore things like Google+, we’re being asked to put folks into circles.  So ay people  know fit into many circles- more like a Venn diagram than one nifty bucket.  I’m sure you feel the same.  But regardless of the circle or layer, I do make sure I listen and take in what folks say, weighing it with the credit, if any, its due.  Who is competitive?  Who is looking out for my best interests?  What does this person stand to gain from me?  What do they have to lose?

Sometimes, we find ourselves with friends who are there for us, high or low water mark, and we might not even know why.  But for some reason, they like us and are willing to be there whatever happens.  And those friends, those are where the gold is.  Like family, they don’t give a hoot about “Who We Are” – because there’s no quid pro quo in the relationship, short of abuse.  And they want what’s best for us, and rarely get anything tangible other than friendship out.  I love these folks, even if I don’t often think I’m worthy of their love in return.  We’ve become family, de facto, and like family, they are there no matter what.  These are the folks you also have to listen to, because they like you because of who you are and what they see inside, regardless of how you feel about yourself.  They will tell you truths you never knew, and see through any of your disguises, and they care about none of it, because all they see is your heart and potential, and they think you’re worthy of their time and investment.  These are the folks I never want to let down.  And I hope you have a group of them in your life that are nearly as terrific as mine.

I hope you know who to listen to and when, and how to weigh their advice.  I hope this helps you think about that as well.  Let the random critics go their own bitter way, but also understand where they come from and if their sniping has merit.  But more importantly, take the advice or the read on those snipers from the folks you trust most who you know have your best interest at heart, because they will always tell you the truth.  And often, that’s what we need to hear most, even if it hurts.

Thanks for reading this, and I hope you do give me honest feedback- that’s what I need the most.