Since I’ve been becoming more and more visible for the public, it happens more often that I meet people who are critical towards me or my work. Being criticized is one of the consequences of becoming successful which is why I decided to deal with it as soon as possible.
In one of Steve Pavlina’s recent newsletters he shared some insights and strategies about dealing with critics. I recommend you to read it because he made a lot of good points. Steve basically writes that he found only 1-3% of the feedback he got was helpful. The other 97-99%, however well-intended it is, is a waste of time.
While my numbers may differ, the problem is the same: The critics don’t know me well enough. They don’t know my values, they don’t know my intentions, they don’t know my personality. They just assume my values and intentions are the same as theirs. Their subjective opinions fit me like the pants of an overweight person. Hey, I don’t need your pants, they don’t fit! And also: I’ve got my own!
I know, being critical is highly valued in our Western societies. As if being critical ever created something… The truth is that the people who create change are not those who spend their day being critical but those who ACT in spite of all the criticism in the world. It’s the people who believe in their ideas and inspirations, no matter how much negative feedback they will receive for it.
What I observed when I listened more to the critics was actually a negative effect: I became more insecure about my abilities and my ideas, I felt bad because I concentrated on the negative side of my work, instead of the positive side of it and it became more difficult to follow my own ideas because my mind was cluttered with the ideas and doubts of other people. It’s difficult enough to deal with my own doubts and mental clutter, I don’t need yours, too.
Following the feedback I received was like defining myself through other people all over again. I thought I had left that behind in my teen-years!
It’s funny how the idea that being criticized for one’s work is a healthy and reasonable thing to do stayed intact in my mind for so long. But it’s not such a surprise either: When you give critical feedback a more important status than your own feelings, you’re giving your power away to the people around you. For society you’re easier controllable when you’re giving your power away to their feedback. That’s why they keep on pushing their negative opinions on you.
Fortunately you don’t have to give your power away. You can set up your mind and your world in a way in which you 1) don’t get infected by the virus of criticism anymore and 2) receive less criticism in the first place.
While 1) is a process that will take some time to learn, 2) is something you can implement instantly.
I would recommend you to do both but obviously we all have to start somewhere.
So a few days ago I decided to start with the de-cluttering of criticism in my life. After publishing a song I had been criticized for my singing by two people on my Facebook page. While the first comment had a positive, supportive focus (in the spirit of “just keep on going, and you will get better”), the second comment had a clearly negative focus (like “you ruined a perfectly good song with your horrible singing”). He even declared that his comment was intended as constructive criticism.
Well, what I can tell is that if I put a lot of thoughts like this into my mind, I probably won’t be eager to construct anything much in the future.
While this kind of feedback gave me a change to practice my mental immunity against negative thoughts, I didn’t see a reason to let the comment waste anymore of my attention. That’s why I deleted it.
Yes, there, I said it: I deleted it. I censored it! I also wrote him a message about why I censored it so he wouldn’t wonder. I told him that I didn’t want to be criticized on my Facebook profile. What happened after that? He UN-friended me!
Did I regret it? No, not at all! Actually, I felt a lot more powerful after I had written the message and even more after he had un-friended me. If he couldn’t respect my request of being treated in a supportive way on my Facebook profile he probably wasn’t a compatible contact to begin with. In fact, I felt relief after he had dropped me.
What I did after I had deleted his comment is, I also deleted the first critical comment that still had a supportive focus. Why? Because I felt that it would open the space for more critical and negative feedback like the one of the second guy.
I wrote him, too, a message and explained my behavior. He did not un-friend me. In fact, I could talk with him about our attitude towards critical feedback and after that it was a lot easier to understand each other’s points of view. I felt that he respected my needs, so I didn’t feel like there was anything off about our connection after I had deleted his comment. It rather helped us to understand ourselves and each other better. Normally I wouldn’t have deleted his comment but I also told him that I didn’t “need” the kind of feedback and valued supportive messages more than critical ones.
I also felt relieved after this discussion. I felt like I could stand my ground without the need to justify myself. I felt like was being authentic while still being able to connect with people in a positive way. That was a good experience to have!
By the way, I got a lot more positive feedback on the song than negative feedback and somebody even told me he liked this song more than my other songs.
And there was more: at the same day, only a few hours later, I got a few very nice compliments for my singing at a karaoke event. It wouldn’t surprise me if I attracted this kind of positive feedback by clarifying my intention to receive only supportive feedback (and acting on it). Even in the next few days I got a lot of positive feedback for my work and my person – more than usual. It definitely felt good to be so appreciated and supported!
If you’re dealing with critics in your life – whether it’s your mom, your neighbor or your audience – be aware that you decide how to deal with them. Do you really want to take every critical opinion seriously? Do you really want to discuss your work or to justify yourself? What kind of feedback helps you to be productive? How can you make sure you receive that kind of feedback? How can you get rid of feedback that is only destructive?
Don’t let negative feedback bring you down only because you think you have to listen to it. You have always the possibility to ban the critics from your house, your facebook page or your email inbox. Yes, you might lose a contact or two, but that’s always the price you have to pay when you want to be authentic. The good news is that at the same time you will draw more compatible connections into your life. People who support and appreciate you. And not people who judge and criticize you.