Why You Should Learn To Love Criticism
But only the right kind
Bolstered with thirty years of experience and an endless reservoir of knowledge, she knew more than everyone else in the meeting combined.
She delivered a flawless presentation to a pleasant but inexperienced gatekeeper tasked with screening out unsuitable proposals.
The client’s response shocked us.
He trashed her work and then recommended she take a remedial class to learn the basics of finance.
Not only did her critic make a condescending statement, but he lacked sufficient knowledge to criticize in the first place. His points of disapproval were nonsensical.
Few people can brush off hateful criticism without care. Whether it’s delivered in person, over email or on social media, it always stings.
Anyone can boast they’re immune to criticism. It’s easy to tell yourself, but it’s not so easy to sell yourself.
The sting of harsh criticism constrains our willingness to accept feedback — well-intentioned or not.
The four types of criticism
We often use the word criticism as a catch-all phrase for any feedback. When you approach it from that perspective, you develop a single response — one of defensiveness.
Rather than dismissing it, learn to categorize the four types of criticism: professional, uninformed, questionable, and trolling. Each one requires a distinct evaluation and response.
Categorization enables us to dismiss the worst and embrace the best, fueling our growth and protecting our mental state.
Our logical mind wants professionals to evaluate our work and point out where we can improve. Our emotional side harbors a secret desire when we ask (or pay) for feedback. We expect our reviewer to shower us with praise; it brightened their day and restored their faith in humanity.
It’s a rare person who jumps for joy at the sight of their manuscript bleeding with red ink. “Yes, an opportunity to improve. I’m so grateful.”
When you pour your soul into a project, you want everyone to love it. Even well-meaning, professional feedback feels like a hammer to the kneecap.
Critique, coupled with positive notes and words of encouragement, helps soften the blow to our egos, but not everyone has the time for sugary reassurance.
Some folks give terse, no-nonsense feedback. You may not like it, but it’s the best you’ll ever get. They leave no doubt about where you fall short and what you must improve.
Preparing for professional feedback
Professional feedback ALWAYS focuses on your work, actions, and behaviors. Too often, we dismiss professional feedback because it shatters our ego. A critique of your work can feel as painful as an attack on your character, but differentiating is essential.
Welcome quality feedback; accept it, and most important, act on it. That’s how you learn and improve.
Still, the proverbial red ink can wound our pride. It’s vital to approach it with the right mindset.
- Expect they will find problems with your work. That’s why you seek out feedback, right? To discover better ways of doing things.
- Get excited about the opportunity to learn how to improve.
- Remind yourself that you want to reach your potential. The short term pain is necessary to achieve excellence.
Responding to professional feedback
Never respond right away. The initial shock feels like a punch to the gut. Resist the urge to shoot off a fiery disapproval of their critique. Take time to cool off and review it in a calmer state.
- Thank the other person with a smile or at least a gracious email. They gave up their time to honor your request.
- Avoid qualifiers in your thank-you letters. “Thank you for your critique, but here’s why I think you’re wrong…” It’s insulting. They probably won’t care. And they definitely won’t work with you again.
- Implement their suggestions. If appropriate, share the results. As someone who gives feedback, I appreciate it when someone puts my suggestions into action and shares the results. It becomes a learning experience for me too.
Have you ever had someone trash your work who’s grossly unqualified to critique anything? Recall the example from the opening paragraph — an inexperienced client on an ego trip trashed exemplary work by a seasoned and well-respected professional.
In some cases, the other person may think they’re helpful, but they lack the knowledge and experience to provide meaningful input. You’ll want to put them in their place, of course.
Nobody wins these confrontations. They’ll brush you off or return fire with more insulting rhetoric.
What if you doubt the quality of the critique?
If you have the slightest doubt about their qualifications, do your homework. Don’t seek out, pay for, or heed advice unless you’re sure of the critic’s expertise.
Whether it’s ignorance or inflated ego, the advice is the same. Ignore uninformed critiques.
Sometimes we come across dubious criticism. In the digital world, it’s often hard to discern between real hate and hastily chosen words that are ultimately benign. Then there’s respectful, but unsolicited feedback to consider.
These situations leave us confused.
I typically ignore unsolicited feedback, though I do send a thank you note if I find it helpful. Sometimes, strangers really do want to help for no other reason because they’re good people with knowledge to share. We can’t always dismiss their words just because we don’t seek them out.
A loose acquaintance of mine once misconstrued my comment on social media as an attack. Upon second look, I could see how he might have concluded that.
My comment was intended to be satirical, but it missed the mark. It’s all too common on social media. We choose our words with little thought or consideration.
If you know the person, and the relationship matters, direct communication might resolve the issue.
Attacks against your character or you as an individual offer you zero chance for growth and only serve to shatter your mental well-being. Useful criticism or feedback focuses exclusively on your work. Trolling makes it personal.
- They attack your character by calling you hateful, unprincipled or dishonest but without cause or evidence.
- They belittle you by suggesting you take a remedial class in whatever skill you pride yourself.
- They devalue you by suggesting you’ll never be good enough no matter what you do.
How do we handle negative criticism, not so much from our response to the other person, but managing our mental state?
Don’t engage in battle
Ignore it. Don’t respond. You can’t win. You won’t convince the other person to apologize or retract their statement. At best, you’ll get two minutes of satisfaction before the other person escalates with more extreme vitriol.
Vicious criticism is about them, not you
Remind yourself their hate is more about them than you. Perhaps you reminded them of their own inadequacies and fears. Maybe you caused them to question their values. Or perhaps their lives were in chaos, and they felt compelled to lash out at anyone who presented themselves as a target.
Will this be true one-hundred percent of the time? No, but this process is about managing your emotional state. Don’t concern yourself with seeking out the ultimate truth behind a stranger’s vicious rant. It doesn’t matter. Really, it doesn’t.
How to fight the angst generated by hate-purveyors
Get curious about the kind of personal problems this person might be experiencing. What could be so horrible that they feel the urge to dish out such hatred? Curiosity forces your mind to seek answers; it distracts you. Intense curiosity monopolizes your focus and crowds out negative emotion.