We all have to face criticism in our life. Not that we call it upon ourselves, but the more visible we become, the more of it we attract through our activities. Even though we understand that most of it is a normal and necessary part of our progress, it’s not always easy to take criticism well. Depending on the nature of the feedback and its delivery method, it can stay with us for a long time and take away from our confidence levels. I would like to share today what I have learned from my personal experiences and I hope it may help you in yours.
All the critics I have come across can be grouped into three categories, each with its own distinct mission and agenda. Here they are:
People with your best interests in mind
You have to love these critics. They are the best. They are your friends. They care about you, they truly want you to succeed and that’s why they bring to your attention what otherwise would have remained in your blind spot hindering your progress and the much-needed breakthroughs. When these people speak, not only you have to listen but actually, hold on to their every word. You may not always enjoy hearing what they have to say, but do appreciate the fact that opening up to you in a criticising way may have required that extra effort and maybe even that extra courage on their end. These critics are usually aware of people’s feelings and are considerate enough to choose the right words to keep your confidence intact. One sure sign that they have your best interest in mind is that they are equally, if not more, generous with their positive feedback as well. They will be the first ones to applaud your hard work and root for you to go forward.
This type is not necessarily looking out for your best interests, but they are not out there to get you either. Unlike your true friends, the neutral critics don’t necessarily care about you too much and don’t mind to go public with their criticism. It may be a disagreeable colleague, a negative commenter online, or a “difficult” audience member. You, in your turn, may disagree with their opinion or the way they present it, but they are not moved by any of that. To them, it’s not personal. They may have nothing at all against you or your brand and could be criticizing your work simply because they oppose an idea of yours or dislike a product you offer. This category includes most customer complaints and performance evaluations as well. The best thing to do is not to take it personally and see what can be learned from this experience. Don’t try to block these comments – the more diversity in the feedback you receive the better for your growth. There is always something to learn from the neutral critics, and their lack of consideration for your feelings has its upside too. After all, it means you can rely on them not to sugar coat the truth.
This is, fortunately, a rarer type of critics, but it is as bad as it sounds. Even though “trolls”, as the internet-specific term suggests, like to upset people online with their toxic, often off-topic comments, in reality, they manifest themselves in a wide range of offline settings as well. Even though some of them attempt to disguise their criticism as constructive feedback, here are some of the telltale signs that don’t lie:
- The deliberate choice of harsh words and the dogmatic tone are meant to hurt.
- A troll will not acknowledge anything good you do and may even go out of his/her way to diminish your contributions.
- True to their nature, they do like to hide, whether it is behind a computer screen, “other people’s opinion” or their own clique they may bring with them to gang up on you.
No matter what your particular case is, do not allow these behaviors catch your off-guard. Be prepared that even our best work has a good chance of encountering its share of trolls, especially once you go public with it. Until proven otherwise, I tend to assume everyone has best intentions. With that mindset, I have recently found myself listening to a troll and searching for that nugget of truth in their words. Do not be disappointed if you find none. Their criticism is unfounded, unhealthy and is usually there to serve a completely unrelated agenda. It would be great not to be touched by it at all, that’s why developing a thicker skin is one thing I need to work on. In the meantime I have found an acceptable way to respond – once you have identified a critic as a troll, deny them any acknowledgment by refraining from any further discussions.
The lessons we learn from criticism are not always the ones our critics intend for us. Sometimes we learn how to refine our processes further, some other times we learn that not all criticism is a true reflection of the quality of our work. Know how to recognize each type of critics. Listen to criticism with an open mind, take away what you need, but under no circumstances allow criticism bring you down and prevent you from moving confidently in the direction of your dreams.
What are some of the best or worst lessons you learned from criticism? We would love to hear from you. Please share in the comments your experiences being on either end of criticism.