Handling Critics

Photo of Sesame Street CharactersCritics. That word just seems to have a really juicy bite to it, doesn’t it? I’m on a soapbox, just to be forewarned. Most people hear the word “critics” and kind of shudder and cringe. It’s in all the cartoons and movies… where people seek to avoid the critics and then get outraged once they hear the feedback or read the reviews. “They’re taking it all wrong and all out of context!!”

Well, of course they are! That’s why they choose that profession! But… really… why are you crying about it? So what if they’re wrong? What does it have to do with the work you’re doing? So what if people hear them and take heed to their “not-even-close” suggestions of running the other way? Why would that stop you from making the crème brûlée for the faithful customers who DO make it to the restaurant that night?

The very first experience of criticism I can remember was when I was in third grade. I was heavily into art back then, at the tender age of nine. We were learning to make art with pastels, which was at that time my favorite medium to use. So, I started to draw a cowboy and a horse and color it in. I was using some sort of peachy construction paper and was trying to color in the skin on the cowboy, but the only color pastel I had that would work was this dark tan color. Someone started to criticize my art, and in retrospect, I don’t think they were intending to be mean. But they said that the skin color was wrong. I remember feeling mixed emotions about it because I knew the skin color was wrong but it didn’t seem like I could do much about it at the time. Boy was that a tough day. I ended up saying a bad word to describe my art and got sent to the principles office and had to write like 1,000 lines (that was the worst punishment for me besides spanking… and my parents used it often with me…. Bart Simpson is pretty much the only other soul I know that has had it as bad). It was really tough being a nine year old back then. I did finish the art and I remember winning some award for it, despite the off-color skin tone, but that wasn’t really much compared to the way I reacted to the criticism. But, it’s the best I could do. I’d never had criticism over my art before! Most people just smiled and said it was beautiful and put it on their fridges.

The thing is, I’m not nine now. I have an understanding that there is a reason why I do the things I do and if there is any amount of external criticism that could change that reason, then I don’t really understand why I would do it.

I often think about the Holocaust when I think about this concept. If the people who were hiding Jews in their walls and attic were as wishy-washy then as many people seem now, we’d all be in a very different world. No, they knew what they were doing when they lied and said their house was empty. No amount of criticism could make them change their mind or see it any differently. They knew they were doing the right thing… no matter how scary it was. They pressed on and never changed course, in spite of the opposition.

The one really cool thing about criticism is that it’s useful, no matter how untrue it is. You can always find something useful in what is being said. Or even that fact that anything’s being said at all tells you something. It’s not like you can go throughout the world and expect to impact without someone throwing a tantrum.

People don’t like change at times, and they don’t like it especially if they don’t understand it. And again, I say, So What!? The minute you stop doing what you love to do to avoid criticism is the minute you’ve said, “Well, I guess you’re right.” And that’s a sad day for the hopeful dreamer.

So, here’s the deal… I was reading this blog about the “Art of Manliness” which was a really cute idea for a blog, by the way, and I felt inspired to share my thoughts on how to take criticism. If you’re used to just giving up, and want to stop that silly little response and start doing stuff in the face of criticism, I’ve got five tips for you.

1) Really be sure that the thing you are doing is what you really want to do. If this is true, nothing should shake you save gaining and understanding that the thing you’re doing is actually destructive to humanity and you just didn’t see it before. But if you know you’re intent is good and there doesn’t seem to be any major critical melt-downs in the process, this is a good thing.
2) Understand that all criticism is information. That’s it folks. That’s all it is. No matter what the intent is of the person or people aiming at you, you take it in simply as information either about you, about the people doing the criticism, and about the way the world operates. This concept will help you to be able to separate your emotional responses from your day-to-day processes.
3) Know the sources. Come on, seriously, if the person aiming his or her words at you have no interest in helping you make your thing better, acknowledge the action as information and then just don’t respond. Trust me, responding to them is only going to have them jumping up and down like excitable monkeys screaming for you to give them attention just one more time. Now, if the person is someone who has worked with you before and you trust that the person isn’t attempting to stop you from doing the thing you love (again, provided it is not destructive), take it in as information and see if it can be applied anywhere. This will help! Don’t avoid the criticism just because you’re unwilling to look at your process. Sometimes this is a good thing!
4) Show that you’re listening. If you have a blog, provide a feedback link. Occasionally post in your blog a response to the constructive criticism. Never respond to deconstructive criticism. I refer back to my monkey image I painted earlier.
5) If you’ve made a mistake, fess up! Apologize, do whatever it takes to fix the mistake. It’s no one else’s fault and no one else’s place to fix your goofs. And you SHOULD get some criticism if you aren’t fixing your mistakes.

Now, I’m kinda just a nobody in the world and I certainly don’t claim to be any professional advice-giver. So if this feels like deconstructive criticism… sorry! I’m really just trying to help people who tend to give up in the face of opposition and sometimes throw out the baby with the bathwater and stop looking at the constructive criticism that’s coming up as well. It’s all information! That’s really all I want to say.

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One thought on “Handling Critics

  1. Tabby, what a great reminder of how important it is to get feedback. When you get to be an adult, people rarely give you any information. When I was in the 4th grade I cleaned out my boyfriend’s desk without his permission and he said he didn’t like me anymore for doing that. I never forgot that. A better one is a seminar participant counted my “ums” at 65–that really helped.
    As you stated, we should seek comments, decide what’s useful and move on. Thank you for reminding me how important it is to ask for feedback even if you don’t like it.

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