If you’re a leader, you’re going to attract critics. I say this from experience as an author, public speaker, entrepreneur, and CEO. It goes with the territory. But let’s be honest: criticism stings.
Theoretically, I know if you put an idea or product out in the world, it’s just the price you pay. But emotionally, it knocks me off-kilter almost every single time.
You might think I would be past that. But I’m not. I’ve been known to worry over disapproval and spend way more time thinking about it than I ought to. (Just ask my wife!)
Of course, criticism isn’t all bad. It can help us improve our ideas, our products, and even ourselves.
But that’s only true if we can properly evaluate the complaint and determine if the source is a friend, a critic, or just a troll. Distinguishing between the three is critical because we need to interact with them differently.
Here are the key differences, and what they mean for how you handle them.
Some people are in our lives to save us from ourselves. These people want what is best for us and our organizations, and we ought to encourage them to be critical for our betterment. As the proverb reminds us, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”
The trick is to create an environment safe for dissent so they know it’s okay to speak up. Beyond that, we need to honor their willingness by listening to their criticism.
If it’s warranted, it’s only right to fix the situation and thank them for looking out for us.
Some people decide that they disagree with us and go public. They aren’t malicious. They aren’t out to destroy us. They simply disagree with our ideas or find problems with our products.
Nothing wrong with that. Not everyone sees things the same way. Besides, we might learn something from the criticism. It can help us refine and improve what we’re offering.
It’s important to engage these people and refrain from making it personal. How we deal with honest critics tells others a lot about us and our organizations.
These people have an agenda. They don’t level their criticisms to help you or point out flaws in your product.
Instead, they are out to hurt you and your organization—or at least use you for their own ends. They want to lure you into a fight for their own amusement.
You may address their criticisms, but do not get drawn into long exchanges. It’s usually best to ignore them, especially if they taunt and mock. If you engage them, they will only distract you and deplete your resources.
As someone once said, “resistance only makes them stronger.” You will never satisfy them. Just keep doing what you know you’re called to do.
As leaders, we must learn to distinguish between these three. If we confuse them, we’ll divert our valuable time and resources from the customers who benefit most from what we offer.
Of course, integrity demands that we take warranted criticism seriously no matter the source. If it points out legitimate flaws or problems, we should be quick to address the issue.
I personally assume that everyone is a friend or an honest critic until they prove other otherwise. Used rightly, criticism can help us get the clarity we need to refine our ideas and take our products to the next level.