Critics Are Inevitable.
No matter what you do in life nor how great your goals and aspirations may be, you will always have critics. Even God has critics. The more powerful you are, the greater the work you are trying to do, the more critics you will face. You cannot dodge them. You cannot rid yourself of them. But you can put them to work for you.
Don’t Try To Silence Your Critics
The worst thing you can do with your critics is try to silence them. The less you let them say things to your face, the more damage they will be doing behind your back. Because the criticisms will still exist and they will still be out there, and you won’t have a chance to fight back against them.
If you want a perfect example of how silencing your critics can and does backfire, you have only to look at any tyrannical regime that ever got toppled. Tyrants can’t stand critics and will always pass laws to silence them, but those laws only serve to unite the critics and make it a guarantee that the people who aren’t being heard will fight to have their say.
Critics Are Like A Mirror
I am overweight. I am not proud of this fact. I have spent years engaging in self-abuse, hiding myself from the world, and indulging in things that were sweet to offset the bitterness of a life that felt too much for me to handle. As a consequence, I tend to avoid mirrors. I do not like what they have to say to me. I do not like what I see there.
This is how it is with critics. We tend to avoid them. We do not like what they have to say to us. We do not like the picture of us that they paint when we look in their eyes. We want to deny the truth of it. We like the image of ourselves that we’ve stowed away, and we don’t like that fantasy disturbed by the glimpses we catch of reality when we listen to our critics.
Living Comfortably On Denial
Denial is this very large river that runs through the state of confusion. We all take a dip in that river from time to time, when the pain of reality becomes greater than our courage in facing up to it, but it is never healthy to go and build a houseboat and live on denial. Yet without our critics and without the mirrors showing us reality, that is exactly what we would like most to do. We love denial. It is a comfortable, easy place to make a home.
The problem with living on denial is that the waters of denial hide the crocodile, and those crocodiles are just waiting for us to get fat, lazy, and complacent so they can reach up and take us down where they will drown and devour us whole. Confrontations with the crocodiles of the denial rarely go well. We end up either dead or maimed, broken and shattered by the pain of the encounter.
Don’t Blame The Mirror
I can blame the mirror for what it shows me when I look at it, or I can acknowledge that I do not like what I see there and I can create a plan to change things. Blaming the mirror allows me to stay comfortably drifting on the river Denial but will not do a thing to help me live a better, healthier, and less self-destructive life. Blaming the mirror may make me feel better temporarily, but it will not help me grow. It will not help me confront the areas where I need to change.
I need the mirror to show me the truth, even when that truth is hard to accept, because without that mirror, it is far too easy for me to stay living on Denial until I am too weak to fight off the crocodiles of heart disease or high blood pressure or strokes that may either take my life or leave me permanently scarred by the encounter if I do live.
Thank Your Critics
Your critics are your best and truest friends. They don’t care about your feelings. They’re simply going to tell you like it is. Most of your friends, supporters, fans, and even your family won’t have the courage to do the work your critics do for you because those people are afraid of affecting their relationship with you. They care how you feel and they care about keeping a relationship going with you.
Your critics do not care about that. They don’t care if you like them. They are simply going to tell you how they see it. Thank them for the work they do for you. They are improving you even if they don’t mean to do so. The energy they spend tearing you down is energy that you are going to leverage to build yourself up. So thank them, because without them, you would never be able to reach the heights of greatness you were meant to achieve.
Evaluate Their Feedback
As an author, I’ve gotten a lot of negative feedback and criticism for my work. I have learned not to discard this criticism out of hand, but to spend a little time evaluating it to see how legitimate the complaint may be and what I can do to improve myself or my work moving forward. My one-star reviewers, those who rate me the harshest and who are the hardest on my work, are the ones who provide me the most opportunity for improvement.
Useful criticisms are specific and targeted. They tell you why someone didn’t like what you did or what area of your life that they think you need work to improve. The most useful criticism usually comes in four varieties:
- Specific to the work you’ve done or an action you’ve taken
- Specific to you as a person or to your personal appearance
- Specific to a behavior you’ve engaged in or a statement you’ve made
- Specific to the methods you’ve used to deliver the work you’ve done
When I receive these, I evaluate 1) what it was they didn’t like or appreciate;
2) whether or not what they mentioned is something that I care enough about to put in the energy to change. If I am Donald Trump and people are constantly commenting about my orange tan or my bad hair, I have to consider whether or not that bothers me enough to make an effort to change it or whether I am comfortable living with the knowledge that other people are bothered by it.
3) whether or not my critics are criticizing me for having achieved my desired outcome. Sometimes I may very well intend to do something that I know other people will find offensive. If my intention is offensive, and my critics are offended, I have succeeded in my goal and that is what my critics are telling me;
4) Whether the criticism is just or fair based on my stated intentions and goals. Sometimes it isn’t. When I released my first published book, people criticized me for not including marketing tips in it even though I never promised I would deliver any of those in it. That was unfair criticism – but it was helpful criticism as it caused me to look for ways to include that information in my next book.
The least useful criticisms are generic, vague, and non-specific. For example, someone calling me a “stupid idiot.” I don’t know why the person made the statement or what, specifically, they think I could do differently.
When insults like that are given, I consider that I must have done something that evoked an emotional response in them enough to get them to speak up, and so I’ve at least made an impact. Their response to what I did tells me more about them than it does about me…namely that they are not very practiced at articulating their thoughts and feelings.
Dealing With The Criticisms
How you respond to your critics will tell the world a lot about who you are. If you deny them, people will assume the critics are right and they will pile on to the parade. If you acknowledge them, though, your critics will feel validated and will be encouraged to continue criticizing. So what is the magnetic leader to do with the critics?
Put them to work for you. Don’t be afraid to encourage people to criticize you and be honest with you about your faults. Everyone has blind spots, and critics are usually the only people who will be unafraid to show you yours. You need them. Don’t look at them as an obstacle to your success. Treat them as being essential to it.
Admit your mistakes and your faults and your flaws. When you’re open and honest about the fact that you make mistakes, that you aren’t perfect, and that you don’t always have your life under control, you will not only appear more human to your supporters but you’ll be a less tempting target for ego driven critics who are just looking to take you down a notch or make themselves feel better by dragging you down.
Take the criticism you receive and analyze it. See what you can do to improve yourself based on this negative feedback. Come out stronger for it, wiser for it, and bolder in your mission.