This post is dedicated to all of you out there who may not be big fans of criticism. Let’s all embrace criticisms and love them! 😉
Last week, I was out having lunch with a great friend, P. Blogging came up as a chat topic.
P told me that she has been thinking of starting a blog. She is not native, was born and raised in different parts of the world, and is now a PR (permanent resident) in Singapore. Despite having recently had a kid, she travels on a monthly basis as part of exploring the world—along with her husband and kid. She wants to start a blog to share her story and lessons with other families and couples to dispel common myths about how it’s hard to travel (or live a normal life for that matter) after having a child/children.
“That’s such a great idea!” I exclaimed and broke into a huge smile.
“Thanks! But there’s something which I’m feeling hesitant about,” she said.
“What’s stopping you?” I quizzed.
She said that one of the factors was the fear of criticism. She’s a very private person, and starting a blog would require her to share pretty personal things. It was a premature concern since she might not even receive any criticism, but she wouldn’t know how to handle them if she did. Ideally, she wouldn’t even want to be caught in that situation to begin with. She was just unsure of how the public would respond to her writings.
So I told her that her sentiments about criticism were unwarranted, because criticism is a good thing. Then, I shared why I think that way.
What followed was a huge, bright, and beautiful smile from her as she nodded and said that that was indeed a great way to look at criticism. She said that she would start viewing criticisms from that angle from then on.
Embracing Criticism (+ Some of the Worst Comments I’ve Ever Received)
What I shared with her are important lessons which I have learned about criticism in the past few years, ever since I started PE.
I recall not too long ago, I posted a comment on my Facebook, expressing my gratitude for my readers’ constant support. I said that they make the occasional “bad stuff” worth it. I received a whole slew of (mainly positive) responses from those following me on Facebook almost immediately, something which really warmed my heart.
Among them was a friend and an ex-colleague, a very senior and acclaimed manager in the company I used to work at (P&G). She said that whatever negative feedback that I receive today should be a breeze since I used to work at P&G, which is an MNC with very rigorous work processes and evaluation standards.
Not really, actually. My past work at P&G did involve some pretty heavy responsibilities, which naturally led to harsh evaluations and critiques at times. However, no matter how harsh the evaluations and critiques were, they would be within boundaries, namely about the work and relayed in a civil fashion (perhaps sometimes rudely depending on the manager, but it still wouldn’t be an issue if you learn to take the critiques professionally and objectively).
But blogging, lord. The kind of comments you can get have no boundaries—they can basically be anything and everything, from your looks to your personal life to your family. It’s no longer about the work; it’s about everything, including you as a person, and it can well get very personal and uncivil sometimes.
Just two weeks ago, I wrote about my recent enrollment with an arranged dating agency, sponsored by the agency themselves. Not long after, someone posted two separate comments insulting me, saying that the article made her “sick to her stomach”, that I had “no integrity”, that I had “prostituted” myself, that I should send my article to “pornhub”, and “it was no wonder you are still single” (among some other colorful words).
A while back, I had a photo shoot with Simply Her Magazine as part of a career feature. I shared the photos up on the blog. A guy, a self-help blogger no less, wrote a somewhat sexist email after seeing the photos, asking me to “please lose some weight”, because people look up to me for inspiration and I was apparently not an inspirational enough figure (no pun intended) because I had looked (and I quote) “too prosperous” in the shoot.
A month ago or so, someone spammed my articles with various pointless comments. In one of her comments, she flamed me and my ethnicity, saying I was a joke and I was nothing but a “stupid Azian [sic] girl trying to take over the world” [insert the devil emote].
And the list goes on and on. When I have a special folder in my email client for messages like this, you can imagine how many of such messages I get on an ongoing basis.
…Yet, I think criticisms are good, really good. I didn’t use to think so until I started PE. Over the years, I began to embrace criticisms more and more, to the point where I regard them as red-letter events today. And I’ll explain to you why.
9 Reasons Why Criticism Is Good
- For someone to criticize you, it means that he/she cared (enough to write or share that criticism, anyway). The person could have used that time to do something else, but no, he/she actually bothered to send you that message, showing that he/she cared. That has got to count for something.
- You are reaching new people. Every time I receive a criticism, I celebrate because that means that I have just reached a new audience member—someone who doesn’t necessarily agree with what I say/do. I think what’s most worrying is IF I don’t get any criticism at all. That would mean that I’m inside my comfort zone and just connecting with the same people every day.You want to spread your life’s message to as many people as you can. Receiving criticism means that you are now reaching people whom you’ve never reached before. That means you are touching more lives than you’ve ever touched before. That’s a really great thing.
- People wouldn’t criticize you if they didn’t think you were worth criticizing to begin with. To be honest, there are tons of critique-worthy stuff out there. But not everyone takes time to criticize the things he/she don’t agree with. Why? That’s because they don’t feel that those things are worth their critiques at all.If someone is criticizing you, that probably means that there’s something about you that is worth him/her taking time to criticize. If you look at the most prominent figures in this world, from Lady Gaga, to Oprah Winfrey, to Steve Jobs, all of them have large groups of detractors. Why? It’s because each of them stands for a great message—a message that shakes others and stirs up their souls. As Winston Churchill puts it, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
- Criticism lets you see things in a different light. Criticism arises as a result of a conflict in thoughts. You did/said something, someone else has a different opinion, and hence the criticism. Hence, whenever you receive a criticism, you are hearing from a different viewpoint—one which you might never have considered before. The criticism helps you to see things from a different perspective, hence raising your awareness.
- Criticism is a form of honesty. (It lets you know what others truly think.) I actually prefer to be with someone who openly shares what he/she thinks than someone who thinks the same thoughts BUT keeps it to him/herself. With the first person, at least what I see/hear is what I get. With the latter person, the relationship quickly descends into a guessing game.What I do after hearing the person’s opinion is a different thing altogether (I can choose to heed it or discard it), but at least I’m now aware of what the person thinks and where he/she stands.
- Criticism helps you to improve. Criticism lets you know about your blind spots so that you can work on them. The more blind spots you uncover about yourself, the faster you will grow. Over the years, I have learned many things from others’ criticisms of me and my work. Some of them have helped me to learn things I have never known before about myself, which has been instrumental for my growth. Read: Blind Spots In Personal Growth
- Criticism lets you learn about your defense mechanisms. In Be a Better Me in 30 Days Program, Day 15: Reflect on a Criticism, I mentioned that there are two things we can always learn from criticism: the thing that is critiqued (see Points #4 and #6), and our reaction to the criticism. Even when I get criticisms which have no validity, I still learn a ton about myself based on the emotions that surface when receiving the criticism, my first gut instinct reaction, and how I handle the situation. I’ve learned that my reactions are usually a reflection of unprocessed inner issues. Working through these reactions has helped me to become a calmer and more conscious person.
- Criticism helps you to learn more about others. Every criticism tells you something about yourself and the other person. By breaking down the comment, you can understand the critic’s perspective, his/her beliefs, and his/her values. This can be helpful in furthering the relationship with the person.For example, if your mom criticizes you for being rude to her, maybe it tells you that she is hurt by your actions. She is looking for love and affirmation in the relationship but your words and actions (whether they are really rude or not) are denying her that. Hence, it indicates that you should show love to your mom in a language that she understands, rather than relying on implicit mannerisms.
- Criticism sometimes jolts you into action. Ever had a situation where a criticism kicked you into action? Yeah, I had that before too. Sometimes, criticism provides that wake-up call that you have been missing. Perhaps there is something that you have been doing wrong but the people around you are just too nice to let you know or they themselves are oblivious to it, like you. A well-timed criticism, delivered in an appropriate manner, can sometimes provide a much-needed insight which then ignites you into action.
When Criticism Isn’t Good
There are cases when criticism can be detrimental.
#1: When criticism is the only thing you get every day
First example would be when you get constantly get criticism without any breather. Besides the fact that this can be a serious energy suck, constant criticism can divert you from the things that really matter, because rather than work on your goals, you’re too busy reacting to others or resolving conflict between you and other people.
Examples of such situations would be when parents criticize their kids 24/7, a student who is constantly picked on by school bullies, and someone whose work involves dealing with a public audience (such as teachers, writers, bloggers, public figures, and so on).
If you’re getting so much criticism to the point that it’s hindering rather than enabling you, some suggestions I have for you are:
- Learn not to let criticism faze you. Read: 8 Helpful Ways To Deal With Critical People
- Don’t spend your time on the criticism. Use it for something else. Read: Put First Things First
- If the criticism is mainly coming from one person, assert yourself to him/her. Tell him/her you get his/her point, but this just isn’t what you want to be dealing with at the moment. Read: How to Say No: Guide for Busy People
- Create boundaries on how criticism can reach you. For example, I set specific channels where readers can openly share feedback (such as the comment sections of new articles and my social media channels). I do not allow email to be used for feedback purposes—it’s reserved strictly for work engagements. This helps me to be dramatically productive.
#2: When the criticism isn’t constructive and/or gets personal
The second case is when the criticism isn’t constructive and/or becomes personal, offensive, and disparaging. The three examples I’ve shared earlier in the article are examples of that.
When that happens, it’s a violation of your rights. Put these people in their place by asserting your rights. Cut away chronic critics if you have to.
Start Embracing Criticism
Here are other resources I’ve created on handling criticism. 😀
- 8 Helpful Ways To Deal With Critical People | Manifesto | Web Lecture
- 8 Tips to Tackle Naysayers | Manifesto | Web Lecture
- Empty Vessels Make the Most Noise
- Online Negativity: How to Create a Better Internet for Everyone
- 5 Tips to Deal with Negative Criticism [Video]
- Be a Better Me in 30 Days Program, Day 15: Reflect on a Criticism
At the same time, it’s important to learn to provide constructive criticism to others. Here’s a quote by A.C. Benson that I absolutely love:
“People seldom refuse help, if one offers it in the right way.”
How true is that? 😉 If someone isn’t taking to your well-intended feedback/advice too kindly, perhaps it reflects that you aren’t delivering your feedback in the right manner. Here’s an article that will help: How to Give Constructive Criticism: 6 Helpful Tips