The best creative people take assignments to some pretty wild places.

Places that are unexpected, dramatic, even enjoyable. That’s not easy. It takes a lot of confidence to pitch an idea that is a little bit out there. I grew up as a copywriter and 20+ years of brainstorms and pitches have taught me that what you’re really putting on the page is your credibility.

You have to understand that creative people feel the weight of invisible tally marks over each shoulder. One that’s never long enough and one that’s a country mile. We’re all counting the number of winning ideas we bring to the table and the number of ideas that were a big fat miss.

Whether you’re a client, teammate, supervisor or sounding board, if you’re giving feedback along the way, then there’s a good chance you’ve said something that makes you an asshole. Or at least sound like one to the person shouldering all those invisible tally marks.

You probably don’t know it. You almost certainly didn’t mean it to come across this way. But I hear it all the time, so here we are.

“I actually love that.”

Maybe I was tired, or burned out, or hangry, but one day that phrase left my Creative Director’s lips and threw me into a full-throttle, window-smashing, table-flipping rampage inside my head. I tried my best to bury that feeling, but the thick skin I had been working on was crawling. I think I quipped, “I’m glad you like it, but you don’t have to sound so surprised.”

Actually implies that despite all odds someone managed to find a great solution. It undermines confidence. It screams, “Hey, everyone! You’re not going to believe this, but Mark had a good one.”

That guy sounds like an asshole. I try to remember that when I give feedback today. On my team, we are brutal to the work and kind to the people. One of the ways I show that kindness is removing ‘actually’ from my feedback vocabulary.

And don’t worry, there’s an easy fix. A simple swap that turns you into an ally. One who throws all their weight, clout, and support behind your teammates.

“I honestly love that.” 

Honestly is disarming. It shows consideration. It’s thoughtful. It says (without saying), hey I’ve seen a lot of good ideas and way more bad ones, and I can tell you with a full-throated endorsement: This one hits.

That’s what creative people want to hear. That’s motivating. That hits the ear so much better than, “Hey I don’t know how you did it, but you did it, kid. Unbelievable.”

Word choice makes a big difference. So, keep your ears open. If you catch someone using the a-word, share this article with them. Or, if you can swing it, take them out for a coffee and let them know that, honestly, they sound a bit like an asshole sometimes.