This week we continue with the second half of handling criticism. As a post goes, it has been the highest viewed so far. Thank you for your feedback and shares. This week we focus on what to avoid in the midst and the aftermath of criticism.
DON’T: Miss the feedback despite the delivery.
When I was doing some further study in people development, I learnt a very important principle. It was “There is no failure, only feedback.” This serves to put the experience you might have had in context, and find the gold in the mountain of dirt you might have felt piled up.
Let’s face it. Words hurt. Sometimes a great deal. You will be criticised; that’s a promise. It’s learning from, and making the significant changes that you can take into the future that separate good leaders from great leaders. Having a process that finds the key learning in the midst of the criticism is essential for us all.
Despite not liking this, I have learnt that if some criticism really stings me on the inside and hits me at soul level, I have learnt that there might actually be something that resonates with that. The old adage “truth hurts” has become a guiding light for me here. If it hurts me, really hurts me, deeply hurts me, there might be something sensitive, underdeveloped or unresolved IN me that needs some further work.
Don’t try to solve it right away. Sit with it. Work out what specifically is the feedback that you can take into your leadership future. When you can state the learning clearly, you can internalise it quickly.
DON’T: Allow yourself the time to nurse, rehearse and converse.
I’m looking squarely in the mirror for this one. I noted last post that as a verbal processor, I find myself arguing with people who are’t there about criticism that has passed and matters that have been dropped. I know, even writing it that way makes it sound just a little bit off centre doesn’t it 🙂
When I talk about a problem, it is a sure sign to me that I haven’t resolved it. No matter my protests or claims to the contrary. If I allow myself the dark privilege of sloping into victim mode, trolling others about it and keeping the moment alive I find it becomes a weight that hangs off the health and vitality of my soul and my leadership.
Nip this temptation in the bud as fast as possible. Invite a few trusted advisors to challenge you to move on, step up, focus on what will move you forward. Bill Hybels was teaching leadership sometime ago, and I heard him say “How can we get on the solution side of this problem?” I find that enormously helpful to snap out of the rehearsal mode and shift into the movement mode that leadership simply requires of us all.
DON’T: React, that plays the lose/lose game.
Have you written countless emails and never sent them? Me too. So many times. In fact, I admit to writing as many as 4 responses at one time and saving them all as draft only to delete them 36 hours later. This is one area the leadership gauntlet must throw down. When you dive into the lowest level of reaction by either coming out fighting or retiring the criticism you do more than stoop to the level of the critic, you take it even lower.
I choose to believe that when a critic goes public in an unsavoury way they are saying more about themselves than you.
Timothy Ferris said it this way “Online I see people committing ‘social media suicide’ all the time by one of two ways. Firstly by responding to all criticism, meaning you’re never going to find time to complete important milestones of your own, by responding to things that don’t warrant a response.”
Remind yourself also of the wisdom of having your response forever stored on line. Sitting there waiting to be picked up by someone, at any time that could hurt you or your cause. I’m not saying don’t stand up for for your convictions and what you know to be as right, or neglect the need to a named public record or address matters of fact. I am saying, avoid at all costs playing out a conversation that should be private in public. That’s cringeworthy at best.
DON’T: Give in to the temptation to make them wrong so you can look right.
We have a phrase around the local Church I lead that says “People that leave our Church aren’t bad people, they just left our Church.” The temptation to make the critic all wrong so you can look right is obviously there, yet an unhelpful lane to travel in.
If there is a lesson to be learned somewhere in the midst of any critical exchange, do all you can to find it. Humility is your best team member right at this point. The critic doesn’t need to be made wrong so you can move forward. They just are. Your character and reputation will prove to be exactly what it is despite the role critics like to play.
The leader in you must make the decision to say. This isn’t about right and wrong right now; it’s about what is wise and unwise. The leader in you must be able to take the position that believes you don’t need to be right, and they don’t need to be wrong. The leader in you must work hard to avoid the subtle temptation to undermine the critic to promote your position. You might feel better, but no progress gets made at all.
DON’T: Be afraid to stay silent and walk away.
Last week’s post has a line in it that says “gentleness invests into your future.” I believe that. Sometimes silence is so thunderously loud everything that has incited the criticism falls over because no one says anything about it. The criticism disappears as fast as the news feed forgets about it, which is increasingly fast let’s face it.
Ancient script says, “fires die down for lack of wood, so quarrels die down without gossip.” Whatever you starve dies. Whatever you feed thrives. John C Maxwell taught me over twenty years ago that “taking the high road” is usually the best choice. The high road might be harder at the start but it is better in every way after that.
Criticism CAN be a teacher when you work out how you experience it, debrief it, learn from it and change because of it. We don’t particularly like it, yet sometimes we like what we learn from it. May we be the learning kind of leader.
#leadsmall – because when you do, big things can happen.