Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Criticism

by STEVE BLOOM

everyones a critic

Nobody likes to be criticized. Criticism is one of those things people wish would just go away, but inevitably find it hard to avoid. But avoiding criticism for the rest of your life is impossible. Someone, somewhere is eventually going to find fault with something you do. However, despite a reasonable aversion to it, criticism is actually a good thing.

Don’t Let Criticism Bother You

The big problem with criticism is how hard it can be to take. This is especially true of any critiques of actions you’re proud of or deeply-held viewpoints. I’ve had to deal with a lot of criticism from posts I’ve written for this blog. Each time it happens, I try to evaluate their opinions to see if I’ve made a mistake somewhere. Sometimes they make a good point. Other times, they seem to criticize for no discernible reason.

It can be especially difficult if the other person is intent on using it to harm you. For example, a few years ago I walked up to a girl in a bar to start up a conversation. Her response was harsh. In a shrill voice she declared, “I don’t find you the least bit interesting or attractive”.

I knew her intent was to get me to put my tail between my legs and walk away. If she had been nicer about it, I would have left her alone. I maintained eye contact and continued talking normally forcing her to be the one to walk away. Not letting what she said faze me, I walked up and started a great conversation with another girl instead.

Her outburst was hard to take at first, but I could shrug it off. This is because what she said isn’t really criticism. After all, she knew nothing about me.

This illustrates one of the biggest things you need to understand about criticism. Either it has some truth to it or it doesn’t. When there isn’t any truth to it, just ignore it. It’s those instances, when there might be some truth to it, that you really should focus your time on.

You Need Criticism Sometimes

One of the obvious benefits of criticism is that it can tell you when you’re wrong. Being wrong about something sucks, but no one telling you when you’re doing something wrong is even worse. Having people around you who will tell you when to reexamine your thinking is important.

Working without criticism can lead to much bigger problems such as groupthink. This is when a group of people all reach consensus on an idea without careful evaluation or discussing alternative viewpoints. This can lead to a large group of people making poor choices simply because no one wants to criticize the consensus.

One way groups get around this problem is to designate someone before a meeting to play devil’s advocate. Basically this means someone is pre-assigned to criticize the main consensus of the group. This brings up alternative viewpoints and allows others who might have doubts to voice their opinions.

Great People Are Criticized

Another thing to keep in mind is how close prestige and criticism are. For example, have you ever disliked someone famous all your friends seem to like? I think everyone has experienced this at one time or another. Perhaps you think the person is untalented or doesn’t deserve all the attention they’re getting. Whatever the reason, it irritates you that this person gets any attention at all.

Disliking someone famous everyone else seems to like isn’t anything new. For every book praising someone‘s work, there is another deploring their actions. It’s almost as if there’s a rite of passage for famous or influential people to experience criticism.

The reason these people get criticized is because they are getting so much positive attention from others. This is why many popular movie stars often get such harsh treatment from some people. The same thing happens to those who have a large influence over others such as politicians, CEOs and religious leaders. Their influence attracts a lot of criticism.

Now look at the opposite. The ones who don’t draw any unique attention or have no influence over others don’t draw any criticism at all. Someone who espouses the same viewpoints as a contentious politician won’t attract as much criticism as that politician simply because they don’t have the influence behind it. It’s like a crazy person who spouts off nonsense on top of a box on a street corner. No one is paying attention to him so there’s no reason to argue with him.

There Is No 100% Consensus

With all the information swirling around the world at the moment, you can seem to find someone to back up just about any opinion you can possibly think of. In fact, I’d say the only thing everyone in the world would agree on is that you can never reach 100% consensus. Despite the obvious paradox of that statement, there’s some truth to it.

Criticism is natural and not something anyone should avoid or become angry about. Too often I see people getting way too upset about an offhand critical comment. I include myself on this list too. However, criticism should not be something to fear. I know it can be hard to take, but the alternatives would be worse.

Have you ever been criticized unnecessarily?  Do you know someone famous that other people love, but you can’t stand?
photo credit: jontintinjordan

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Comments

  1. I can take criticism when it is in the form of feedback but when it is just someone dumping on me I don’t find any value in it.

    Some people’s perspective is all about finding what is wrong with something which is ok with me when their feedback might be helpful.

    • Justin, there is value in feedback. But if it crosses the line and becomes someone dumping on you, it becomes too much. I can see it being a fine line sometimes and different people probably see it in different ways.

  2. So much has to do with the presentation. It’s possible to let people know harsh truths in a way that they will accept it, and there are ways to ensure even the smallest suggestion will never be seriously considered. The former messengers are considered sages who made you feel good by showing you how to be better. Leaving encounters with latter, all one remembers is that they are jerks – the substance of their message is lost.

    We all can get too close to our own work to be able to be able to see it with any form of perspective. That is why feedback is essential. Drawing out the useful bits is the challenge.

    Thanks for the insightful post and the new goal of finding the gem of knowledge in even the most in-your-face message.

    • Hey Tammy, I agree that presentation is really important. Even the harshest truths can be delivered in a way that doesn’t cause any harm. Plus, the right delivery will get your message across to the other person better. They might not take your feedback under consideration if you tell it to them wrong.

      Finding the right thing to give feedback on is important, but the delivery of that feedback can be just as important too.

  3. I’m with ya.

    To me, bad criticism is from someone who not qualified on the topic that you are discussing. For example, you wanted to start a business, but everybody continued to tell you know – the people who are telling you know have never started a business and have no credible information about starting a business. Therefore, they are not qualified and should be ignored.

    I love criticism. I was pulled to the side by several incredible people this weekend at a convention, the poorest one was worth several million alone. He gave me incites about what I am doing and what I could be doing better. I was very appreciative. I want to learn. He taught me more. Done deal. This is the type of the criticism that we should all be open to. The kind that improves and enriches our lives.

    • Hey Brock, it sounds like you got some great feedback at that convention. That’s the kind of advice I like to get. I find criticism is much easier to take when it is teaching me how to do something or become better. I don’t easily turn down that kind of feedback.

      I agree that bad criticism comes from people not qualified to talk about the topic they want to critique you on. I know a few people like that and it bugs me when they give me advice on topics I know much better than they do. But I listen though because you never know what insight they might have about it.

  4. If the criticism could’ve been more constructive. And I agree, I learned to NOT listen to people who are not credible enough to share their thoughts thinking they’re experts in a certain field when they haven’t done it themselves.

    • Ed, I know the kind of people you’re talking about. They think they’re experts, but really don’t have any experience in what they are talking about. They can be frustrating people to deal with especially if you know more about the subject than they do.

  5. Oh man, this is one of my (many, many, many) faults. I get so highly invested in projects and tasks that sometimes when people critique it, I have a hard time separating myself from the project. I have tried to make myself ask for people to give feedback more often in an attempt to become better able to deal with it. I wouldn’t say it’s working, but it’s a journey I guess. :)

    • Miranda, it sounds like you get your identity tied too closely with the projects you get involved with. I think a lot of people do that; I know I do it sometimes too. I like the way you’re handling it though by asking for feedback in order to become better at handling it. Give it some time and I’m sure it will get easier.

  6. i agree man… criticism does help us sometimes especially if its done constructively… criticism helps us see things that we can improve which we sometimes tend to overlook because of our ego…

    • Good point. I think everyone has overlooked something because of their ego. That really can prevent us from improving so that’s why criticism becomes important. You can break down that barrier to see how things really are.

    • I also agree, the one paragraph hits the nail on the head.
      “𝕆𝕟𝕖 𝕠𝕗 𝕥𝕙𝕖 𝕠𝕓𝕧𝕚𝕠𝕦𝕤 𝕓𝕖𝕟𝕖𝕗𝕚𝕥𝕤 𝕠𝕗 𝕔𝕣𝕚𝕥𝕚𝕔𝕚𝕤𝕞 𝕚𝕤 𝕥𝕙𝕒𝕥 𝕚𝕥 𝕔𝕒𝕟 𝕥𝕖𝕝𝕝 𝕪𝕠𝕦 𝕨𝕙𝕖𝕟 𝕪𝕠𝕦’𝕣𝕖 𝕨𝕣𝕠𝕟𝕘. 𝔹𝕖𝕚𝕟𝕘 𝕨𝕣𝕠𝕟𝕘 𝕒𝕓𝕠𝕦𝕥 𝕤𝕠𝕞𝕖𝕥𝕙𝕚𝕟𝕘 𝕤𝕦𝕔𝕜𝕤, 𝕓𝕦𝕥 𝕟𝕠 𝕠𝕟𝕖 𝕥𝕖𝕝𝕝𝕚𝕟𝕘 𝕪𝕠𝕦 𝕨𝕙𝕖𝕟 𝕪𝕠𝕦’𝕣𝕖 𝕕𝕠𝕚𝕟𝕘 𝕤𝕠𝕞𝕖𝕥𝕙𝕚𝕟𝕘 𝕨𝕣𝕠𝕟𝕘 𝕚𝕤 𝕖𝕧𝕖𝕟 𝕨𝕠𝕣𝕤𝕖. ℍ𝕒𝕧𝕚𝕟𝕘 𝕡𝕖𝕠𝕡𝕝𝕖 𝕒𝕣𝕠𝕦𝕟𝕕 𝕪𝕠𝕦 𝕨𝕙𝕠 𝕨𝕚𝕝𝕝 𝕥𝕖𝕝𝕝 𝕪𝕠𝕦 𝕨𝕙𝕖𝕟 𝕥𝕠 𝕣𝕖𝕖𝕩𝕒𝕞𝕚𝕟𝕖 𝕪𝕠𝕦𝕣 𝕥𝕙𝕚𝕟𝕜𝕚𝕟𝕘 𝕚𝕤 𝕚𝕞𝕡𝕠𝕣𝕥𝕒𝕟𝕥.”

  7. Wow, that girl at the bar was horrible! I’m glad you stood your ground and she was the one who had to slink off. I love constructive criticism. It never hurts and always helps because if it’s truly constructive it’s delivered in a gentle and helpful manner.

    • Hey Sabina, you’re right about what makes good constructive criticism and how it is delivered. That girl at the bar definitely wasn’t interested in being constructive.

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