When someone criticizes you, how to you react? Do you tell them to, “Take a hike, jerkface,” or do you crawl off to a corner to sob? Neither of those reactions is particularly useful.
Getting defensive when someone criticizes you is a normal reaction, but if you are willing to accept constructive criticism you can improve. The criticism may be of your business, your products or you personally—if you can get past your initial reaction, you may find it helpful.
I have presented seminars for years, including about a year for a major public seminar company. Every day I faced an audience of 50 to 400 people, many of whom were sent by their bosses and did not want to be there. At the end of the day, they got to say whatever they wanted, anonymously, on the evaluation form.
Fortunately for my ego, most of the evaluations were positive. People talked about how I kept their interest and how much they learned. But sometimes they said I talked too fast (Oops. Yes, I do that.) and sometimes they lobbed gratuitous insults rather than offering constructive criticism. One person didn’t like my hair, another criticized the color of my jacket, and someone else said I was too short.
My favorite comment was from someone who said, “She tries to be funny and it makes her even more annoying.” “Even more annoying”? So this person did not like me from the git-go, and when I opened my mouth, things went downhill from there. What can you do when you read something like that but laugh?
The secret to handling criticism is to know when to pay attention to it and when to shrug it off. The people who said I talked too fast—well, they had a point. I do sometimes talk too fast. Seeing comments like that made me more aware of it, and reminded me to slow down and breathe once in a while in future presentations. But to the people who said that my jacket was too bright or I was too short, geez, get a life.
When you are in the public arena, you will be criticized, sometimes fairly, sometimes not. You need to develop a thick skin so that the ridiculous insults do not draw blood, but recognize when someone offers criticism that can make you, your business or your products better. Here are some ways to do that.
Consider the Source. Is the person offering the critique anonymous? Do they have an agenda or an axe to grind? Are they someone who truly has your well-being in mind? Do they have knowledge of the thing they are criticizing? Do not assume that criticism from a friend or family member is well-intentioned. Even if it is, they may not be qualified to offer advice in every area.
Determine the Truth. Ask yourself if there is truth in the criticism. This can be hard, as it means owning your flaws. If you are hearing the same thing from several independent sources, there is a good chance there is at least some truth in it. Even if only one person tells you something, it may be accurate. Be honest with yourself.
Calculate the Value of Change. How difficult would it be to make the change? What would the cost be? And what would the result be? If making a change would require completely redoing your business, and the result would be a small increase in revenue, the return on investment probably does not make it worthwhile.
Take Action (or Not). Once you have determined that a criticism is valid and you need to make a change, make the change. If you have decided that the criticism is not valid, then forget about it. Do not keep going over it in your head, obsessing about the fact that there is a person in the world who doesn’t like you. Shake it off and get on with your life.
And when you ask for criticism, be prepared to hear things you do not want to hear. If the people offering the criticism care about you, they will be willing to tell you the truth instead of what you want to hear. Do not assume that they are wrong, but remember that they might be. Be open to either possibility, and be honest with yourself to get to the truth.