Dealing with Critics

We’ve talked a lot lately about re-setting goals at this midpoint of the year. Goal-setting tends to be a pretty internal process; many people reach out to their networks for advice or information, but the process in something that you really have to do yourself. Once your goals are set and you’re ready to start moving ahead, what can you do to keep critics and nay-sayers from derailing your progress?critic

Nobody likes to be criticized, but there are some lessons that we can learn from even our harshest critics.

  1. Consider the source. What is the person’s stake in the outcome of this goal? A spouse may be concerned the financial outcomes of your path will affect the family; a parent may feel disappointed that s/he can’t brag about your impressive job title anymore; a colleague may also be a rival; a manager may fear losing a valued employee; a friend may fear that a change in your priorities will also change your relationship. If the criticism feels like it’s coming out of nowhere, take a moment to consider the situation from the critic’s point of view and see if their reaction makes more sense. It’s rare that someone is actively out to get you.
  2. Don’t panic – dig deeper. Is there some merit to the criticism? If you take away the negative emotion, are there some good questions in there that you need to consider? Even negative feedback can hold some great insights and new ways to consider your choices. Countering the criticism helps you feel more confident that you’ve set great goals for yourself and have a solid plan for reaching those goals.
  3. Put things in proper perspective. Do you value this person’s opinion? Do you need their approval to follow your chosen course? A criticism of a goal or an idea is not the same as a criticism of you as a human being; be careful not to inflate the actual words to feed into your inner fears and insecurities. Will this disagreement still be important tomorrow? Next week? In 5 years? Choose your battles and let go of the small stuff.
  4. Practice being a bigger person. If your first reaction is to get angry or react strongly, this is a chance to learn how to rein in those strong emotions and keep from further aggravating the situation. Listening to a negative opinion or criticism doesn’t mean that you agree with what is being said, but it does indicate that you can put your own ego aside long enough to hear what is being said. You can learn how to listen to things that make you uncomfortable without taking it as a personal attack, which builds resilience and gives you practice dealing with adversity – a great skill to have in any walk of life. It gives you a chance to forgive someone who has hurt you instead of holding on to anger and resentment, and be a role model for respectful disagreement.
  5. Consider your loyalties. If a relationship feels toxic – if this person is always criticizing – if staying in contact with this person makes it more difficult to stick to your goals or resolutions – it may be time to end the relationship. (Obviously this is more challenging if the person is a family member.) If you can’t end the relationship, develop a strategy to put more distance between you. It’s often helpful to tell the person why the relationship is changing, so you don’t add hurt feelings to an already-complicated situation, but beware of getting into an argument or defending your choice.

It’s probably not realistic to think that everyone will automatically be on board when you decide to make a major life change or switch career direction. Know that any criticism that comes your way doesn’t have to derail your plans or ruin a relationship if you keep things in perspective and treat criticism as a chance to strengthen your commitment to achievable goals.

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