We often discuss how to be better stewards of time, money, and resources, but have you ever considered the importance of stewarding criticism? How can we become better stewards of the reviews, opinions, judgements, or feedback of others regarding our work? To steward means simply to “thoughtfully manage”. How do you manage criticism? What is your attitude toward scrutiny? Nobody likes scrutiny, and everyone’s a critic right? Our biggest fans tell us not to give criticism another thought, and some encourage us to blow it off. We’re told it just doesn’t deserve our time. But does it?
How we receive and respond to criticism no matter where it comes from makes a difference. And while criticism should never consume our lives, it does have its place. Our response to criticism reveals more about our leadership, and self-awareness than one might think. Chances are we may need to hear all or some of what our critics have to say.
Criticism may be legit. Face it. The criticism may be fair. It may not be your best work. Be careful not to completely disregard other’s thoughts. Criticism is sometimes exactly what we need. Be honest with yourself and work to find the nugget of truth in what your critics are saying. Your critic’s ideas could help hone your message, your product, or improve your bottom line. Listening to our critics may reveal new messages or potential new products or ideas to meet the needs of other people, even the critic.
Criticism teaches. Criticism helps us grow, and stretches us, sometimes more than we wish. Life is not always comfortable and that’s ok. We can learn from the comments, sentiments, and observations of others. Even if we ultimately determine our critic’s opinions to be less than useful, each time we experience the discomfort of criticism, we become more approachable, more understanding, and gain better insight into how we receive, respond, and provide criticism. Criticism causes us to consider other people’s point of view, or ideas. We learn every time we do that.
Criticism keeps us grounded. Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously. Criticism reminds us we’re only human, and that we’re all different and we’re not perfect. Neither are our critics. But when we approach criticism in the right spirit, it gives our critics and opportunity to appreciate our hearts, even if they don’t like our product. Thank your critics and get to know them. After all our critics are putting themselves out there too. Some don’t mind so much, but others risk a lot to share their opinions. If you disagree, or you’re alarmed by their bullet points of your shortcomings, breathe. Ask your critic to help you understand where they’re coming from, then show them you value their honest by asking how they might have approached things differently.
Consider the source of the criticism. Give criticism a moment to settle. Then consider where the criticism is coming from. Some believe we should only listen to criticism from our closest friends or family, but criticism from those within your inner circle can go two ways. Suggestions from those you love may seem harsh, or it may be insignificant or watered down. It’s important to keep it in perspective. The value of criticism from family or friends depends on your level of trust and how “real” they believe they can be with you. Our level of connectedness and freedom to share determines our level of appreciation, and our level of offense.
On one hand, the opinions of people you know will carry an element of bias, and a bit more encouragement. Sometimes people we are closely connected to are reluctant to verbalize our inconsistencies or our shortcomings. Some people are blessed to have rare people in their inner circles who are honest and comfortable enough to hold uncomfortable conversations. The best leaders and creators develop tolerance for those situations.
On the other hand, people you don’t know, may not fully understand your intentions or your message. There may be an element of envy or jealousy from outsiders that creeps into how they express their opinions. Outsiders hold less emotional connection, and are much less reluctant to verbalize our inconsistencies and or directly list our shortfalls. People who don’t know you can hit you hard with an overzealous truth. Because we cannot know their motivations, we sometimes digest the opinions of outsiders or unknowns as an attack. Because we don’t have the benefit of relationship, we are often suspicious, and disregard the criticism. Wise leaders or creators don’t take criticism personally. Often it’s just not.
In either case, sometimes we’re unwilling or unable to view criticism from its purest motive or ideal context, but truth is truth. Process but don’t obsess. Neither your identity nor your acceptance is defined by criticism of others.
There’s a difference between feedback and criticism. Criticism often comes unsolicited and free of charge and can knock us off our game, while we seem to accept “feedback” a little better because we ask people to tell us what we think. Neither is less valuable and both are worthy of our time and thoughtfulness, just not all of it.
Creators can sometimes be touchy because of our level of ownership. We don’t want people questioning our creation. We want everyone to enjoy it, to love it, to tweet it, pin it, or post it for the masterpiece it is. Yet sometimes we invite feedback, but can’t handle what we hear, so we disregard the opinion as invalid or the critic as a hater. Not every opinion is invalid. Not every critic is a hater. To simply cast aside feedback or criticism without reflection is irresponsible, unwise and even disrespectful to those we invited to review our performance. Also, you get what you ask for. If you only want observations, then say that. If you want guidance say that, and if you want the brutal truth, free your critics to provide that too!
Whether it’s invited feedback or outright unsolicited criticism, do not allow it to consume you. Opinions are just opinions and everyone has them.
Finally, when you throw something out there for the world to consume, then the world becomes your audience. Of course, not everyone is your target audience, and not everyone will be your biggest fan, but as long as people are considering your work, they are a part of the audience at large. And if you’re doing things well, they may invest enough in you to provide some feedback, whether good or bad. With the right approach, you may be able to connect and transform your critics into fans, and that’s how creators, and leaders steward criticism
Dr. Chester Goad is a university administrator, a former K12 principal and teacher, and a former US Congressional staffer. He’s also an author and blogger, and has presented from Appalachia to Africa on topics related to education, disabilities, non-profit advocacy, parenting, access, policy, and leadership. In addition to the Huffington Post, Chester is a contributing writer for The Good Men Project, and Edutopia. He has been quoted in major media outlets like CNBC, Washington Post, Forbes and more. You can learn more about Chester at www.chestergoad.com. He’s also author of Purple People Leader.