How to Receive Criticism without Becoming Cynical
Leaders are criticized when they take action and when they don’t.
Nice critics try to help by pointing out failures and faults, but neglect positive suggestions.
Tearing down makes nasty critics feel wise, powerful, and right.
The hardest criticism to take is the one that’s partly right. Most are partly right.
Criticism touches who you are, not detached behaviors, when you’re an authentic leader.
5 dangers of criticism:
- Losing yourself. Critics want you to be like them. When you act and think like them, they love you. Strong personalities want you to take the bull by the horns, for example, as long as it’s not their horns.
Pain from criticism, just or unjust, transforms leaders.
Dedicate yourself to growth and development.
Criticism, even done poorly, transforms leaders. The sting of criticism given years ago still clings to me, for example. Those moments change me. Most often, they humble me.
Some criticism is preventable.
Engage people early and often. Avoid isolation. It’s difficult to criticize the plan you had a hand in making.
Choose teammates carefully. Don’t give persistent critics a seat at the table. I’ve seen leaders try to silence critics by elevating them. Typically, this strategy fails.
Criticism is desirable and useful, even if it stings.
When you ask some teammates how to be better, they’ll tell you what’s wrong. Take criticism to a useful place by asking:
- What do you suggest?
- How can I be better?
- What do you want?
Implement useful suggestions from critics quickly and publicly. Be known as a leader who learns and grows.
“Thank you,” points criticism toward useful ends.
How might leaders receive criticism without becoming cynical?
What are some useful ways to handle being criticized?
Insightful… and appreciated. Having served on a Private School in the ’90’s, I understand the painful side of this leadership role.
In almost every case “engaging early” is best, because we’re people too, rising above the pain to see the bigger purpose is essential. “Let’s attack problems while being kind to people” becomes a mental mantra. Understanding there are a few that “just rub us wrong” we often need to give up the last word in a confrontation, waiting for time to play our our rightness – now there’s a test!
Thanks, it’s an interesting piece…criticism. I believe accepting is strong. Accepting feedback really and genuinely and get to the point that you are able to lay it down the feedback. So acceptance I would say and trusting on the other person giving you feedback, that she or he is trustworthy and has the best for you in mind…and that is to grow.
We had a new boss come in who at review time was really tough – and several were deeply offended – but on reflection I realized he had gone deep into where we needed to grow and it was really a gift. Rubber-stamp reviews rarely have value.
Thank you for this post today. Your insight that criticism especially hurts those that lead from an authentic place really touched home. I have been beating myself up for taking criticism to heart. I need to tough up! But keeping this in mind, I can be kinder to myself knowing I am an authentic leader when I am feeling most hurt and vulnerable. It’s true, the criticism goes straight to the core of who I am and the values of the company I am trying to build. For passionate business owners, the business is such a reflection of themselves. I also appreciate that it can make it difficult for those they are leading to feel safe in expressing their uniqueness apart from the leader/owner. They are drawn to the leader because of the passion but it can feel like “rebellion” for both parties as they realize they are not as like minded as they once felt they were.
Pete Smith: Thank you for this comment. I have already “cut and pasted” it for someone else!
Listen intently to the criticism. Respond positively to the critic. Show appreciation for the feedback, even if painful. Take time to reflect on what was said. Embrace what is accurate, ignore the rest. Receiving criticism well shows humility. Then when giving feedback or criticism remember how it feels to receive it, so speak gently, carefully, and compassionately.
I truly understand and appreciate the word “criticism” in the context and for the purpose Dan is using it here. At the same time, I grew up with a dad who ardently believed criticizing someone or anyone was like shaming them or evening shedding blood. It was dad’s belief that criticism was always destructive.
But, if I was I was being criticized. it was okay because perhaps the other person didn’t know better. And I should know and understand “a guest sees more in an hour than a host in a year.”
Others often do see more about us than we might see about ourselves.
There is another word for this negative, destructive, highly-emotional and even hurtful term “criticism.” It’s finding its way in all professions. Why not leadership now?
Take a deep breath exhale!. Determine if the “criticism” is constructive or subordinate,and use the “criticism” as you see fit. Ideally no one likes to be critiqued, absorb what fits and use it to your advantage to build people stronger. The world is what we make it, criticism is just a part you have to learn to overcome and live with.
For me, criticism implies a framework of ‘right/wrong’, suggesting an error or wrong doing. We all have different perspectives and most of us consider ours the ‘right’ one and yet I have found there are many different ways to achieve the same goal so what makes one ‘right’. I like to change the question to ‘what can I do differently?’ which gets away from the hierarchy involved in ‘right/wrong’ and instead acknowledges the various approaches one can take. This shifts criticism to an exploration of the various approaches, one from which everyone can learn. Even when someone does judge and criticize, I try to refocus and be curious, exploring the notion of a variety of perspectives, all of which could be effective, instead of one that is ‘right’ implying all others are ‘wrong’.
Thank you again Dan!
Good reminders on how to receive criticism with grace. Having a thick skin and a soft heart has always been impressed on me. Striking the balance seems to be what protects me from cynicism.
Dan, I love this one!! Here are my thoughts:
I like to translate the word criticism into feedback in my mind, just to emphasize the positive feel of it. I don’t think of it as right vs wrong. I see feedback as an open/honest sharing that’s meant to help. Even if some people give feedback with barbs while others give it with roses, I want to first appreciate that they brought something to me at all. Then I focus on really listening, including asking questions if I don’t understand something or want more info. Regardless of the content, I always end with a genuine THANK YOU.
We all know that we probably get only a small piece of the criticism others are thinking, so I really value what I get directly and use it for reflection. I love getting feedback so that I can grow into a better version of myself. I will never be the best I can be, but I know I can be better.
I find that not everyone is able to deliver feedback eloquently, and it might come off as harsh and excessive. That might be an issue for some persistent critics, so it might be more productive to at least attempt to engage them rather than to exclude them from a seat at the table. They may have a lot to offer, but are just lousy communicators.
One of the tools I teach is called “Q-TIP”. Keep a Q-tip in your desk drawer to remind yourself, “Quit Taking It Personally”. Many (most) people do not know how to give constructive criticism, but I can train myself to be open to the truth in the comments and focus on my own development, as Dan says. Active Listening, an almost internal meditative perspective, can help reduce, eliminate cynicism and depression.
A very relevant post.
The problem with criticism is that frequently the critic’s articulation is also inauthentic. Too frequently, we have teams in which people feign politeness and hesitate to be authentic since everyone is following the unspoken rule of, ‘You don’t speak of my crap and I don’t speak of yours” Feedback in such cases is guarded and might not serve the purpose of inviting criticism.