“All criticism is a form of blessing.” – Oscar Simpson
There has been a lot of talk in the self help arena lately about critics and criticism and “negativity.” Some of the criticism has been harsh and inappropriate, some of it quite appropriate, and some of it entertaining.
I myself have been criticized by others in ways that have been hurtful and frustrating. On Amazon not too long ago, Joe Vitale and I were called the “Hitlers of the internet.” The comment was so absurdly ridiculous, I was surprised when Amazon decided not to remove it.
From going through that experience and many others, I have learned how to handle criticism from a number of vantage points. I thought that perhaps I would share some methods of handling criticism that are productive and not damaging.
Your reaction is not about the criticism you’re facing. First, we have to realize that the emotional reaction to criticism is not a reaction to the criticism itself. Instead, the reaction is more about what we feel about ourselves and what feelings and data are coming up. Obviously, I am nowhere near the Hitler of the internet, but having someone say this about me brings up old data where the criticism was much more dangerous. Perhaps it was a schoolteacher saying my work wasn’t up to standard, or maybe a family member criticizing something I said.
The strength of the emotion I might feel from criticism has nothing to do with what is happening now. The critic only gains power over me when I give that power to him.
Separate your emotions from the event that is currently occurring. You can definitely address the criticism that is happening, but you simply cannot do so from that emotional state. You can’t be effective if you’re acting from a defensive emotion that has been supercharged by data from your past. It is as if you are trying to meet a challenge to road race in a rocket ship… you’re not meeting the current challenge with the appropriate method, channel, or vehicle. While acting from that emotional state may FEEL good and cathartic, it is generally not appropriate and it will likely backfire on us.
Look for the intention. What is the intention of the criticism? Is it meant to hurt someone emotionally? Address a failing in our work? If the intention of the critic is helpful, generally there may be some validity to their statements. At the very least, it is valid to their subjective opinion, and it is generally helpful for us to communicate our thanks for their sharing of their opinion. This establishes good will with our critics, and there are many reasons why this is important.
Decide if the criticism is valid. If the criticism is nothing more than a personal attack, it is likely not valid. I’ve seen some people who have received criticism turn around and try to attack the critic personally. This then becomes a battle of wills and ends up being nothing more than one bully fighting another bully. This is highly unproductive, and these are the types of situations I recommend staying away from. Personal attacks do except put us in that highly charged emotional state where we end up just churning out energy that does nothing productive for anyone.
Take your power back. Even if criticism is hurtful, we have to take our power back by logically and objectively looking at the critic’s words and determine if anything that they’ve said is helpful in any way. This is the only clear way that we can take our power back. When we take criticism objectively and determine it’s place in our work and our world, we strengthen our position, strengthen our work, and hone our skills for the future. Just like a tree strengthened by the wind, critical analysis of our work strengthens our position.
For example, I do a lot of video editing. Sometimes I work on projects for friends and colleagues. Most of the time, I receive direction from these people, and sometimes it is critical of the work I do. I have to first look at what they’re saying and determine if it will be helpful for the project in the long run. If it is, then I incorporate it. If it is not, then I talk to the critic and explain why I feel that their criticism won’t be good for the project. And sometimes I will incorporate the results of critical comments even when I don’t agree with or understand them because it is important to one of my partners, customers, or colleagues. I separate my own worth and my self from the project’s success… and often times, some of those critical statements I didn’t agree with ended up making a bigger impact than I imagined.
My work becomes better because I am open to criticism. Not only does it meet the needs of the project beyond what I can see for myself, I learn something new that will help my other projects become even better.
It doesn’t mean I have to be open to personal attack. It doesn’t mean I have to be open to unfounded statements that are said with the intent to hurt. It doesn’t mean I become a punching bag. It only means I take the criticism at face value and separate myself from the emotions that may (or may not) come up when I receive that criticism.
Don’t hide from the critics. Remember, if criticism makes you FEEL bad, it is not because the critic is powerful over you. Those who hide from criticism, those who bury their heads in the sand and turn away from anything “negative” because it makes them FEEL bad are the people who end up creating lousy products. They put that emotional state as a higher priority in their world than the service that they provide. And if their emotional state is more important to them than creating a high quality product, then they’re putting an illusion before their desire to serve others with their work.
And those who are afraid to create anything at all because they’re afraid someone might say something “negative” end up hiding their light from the world. We all have something to give. Hiding from criticism only means those gifts to the world will end up coming out of someone who isn’t afraid of being criticized.
Of course, all of us like to hear that our work is wonderful, that we’re wonderful people, that what we do is helpful, good, or even amazing. But when we find ourselves in situations where that is ALL we hear, we end up living in a place where we become bored, lazy, or even arrogant… and our work and our lives suffer for it.
The key is to welcome and incorporate criticism from a place of personal power, a place where YOU decide where the criticism belongs, where it’s helpful, and how to best incorporate it. In that way, you separate the emotional reaction based on erroneous data from the gifts that the Divine wants to give to you — and through you — to the world.
The quotation at the top of this post is from my friend, Oscar. Remember Oscar the next time someone criticizes you… and thank the Divine for the blessings it wishes to give you.