The story is told of an old man, his grandson, and their donkey. While traveling, the man overheard passersby mutter, “Look at that poor man walking while the young boy rides the donkey.” So the man rode the donkey while his grandson walked. A few minutes later he heard people whisper, “Can you believe it? A grown man riding while the young boy has to walk.” So the man and his grandson both rode the donkey until someone said, “How sad, the helpless beast suffers just because the man and boy are too lazy to walk.” Exasperated, the man and his grandson ended up carrying the donkey, and they never made it to their destination!
So it is with critics at work. They can keep you second-guessing yourself until you become hopelessly burdened. Why are they so judgmental? And (more importantly) why do you allow them to have such power over your actions? The old man and his grandson didn’t reach their destination because they listened to critics. To avoid a similar fate with your career goals, consider the following.
For Your Own Good?
Ronna Lichtenberg, author of Work Would be Great if It Weren’t For the People, says, “Everyone speaks from his or her own agenda. Each piece of spoken information that finds its way to your ears inevitably has some kind of spin on it, determined by the biases of whoever’s speaking.” Pay attention to a pattern of information coming from the same person.
The sting of a critic’s harsh judgment can be soothed if you remember that their attitude reflects their problems, not yours.
Lichtenberg describes Arch, an employee who loved to share “valuable” feedback with her. “Gloria doesn’t like you,” he’d say. Or “Rob thinks you screwed up.” Why was Arch the only one who scurried to bring these revelations to her attention? Simple. Lichtenberg’s career had progressed quicker than his, and Arch didn’t like that. His anger bubbled over in the form of “helpful” comments designed to make Lichtenberg slightly paranoid. The lesson learned? When dealing with critics, always consider their motive.
Have Some Compassion
You have to feel a little sorry for critics. The root cause of criticism is insecurity. As Susanna McMahon, Ph.D., author ofThe Portable Therapist, explains, “It is impossible to accept others, and their weaknesses and mistakes, if we cannot accept ourselves.” In fact, the extent to which someone criticizes others is an accurate barometer of his or her internal self-doubt. “The more unsure we are about ourselves, the more we look for faults in others. This is one way of excusing our own faults–we justify ourselves by criticizing others. It is as if we are saying, ‘I’m not so bad, just look at him, he’s worse’” explains McMahon.
The sting of a critic’s harsh judgment can be softened if you remember that their attitude refliects their problems, not yours.
A Grain of Truth
There is usually at least some validity to what critics say. However, it takes wisdom and a balanced ego to sift the wheat from the chaff. The human tendency is to gravitate toward extremes–either reacting defensively or like a whipped puppy that deserved the spanking. Instead, force yourself to be objective.
Sam Deep and Lyle Sussman offer the following advice in their book Yes, You Can! ”Agree that at least half of the reprimands given in this world are valid, and that you will probably get your share of them. Listen closely for the truth in what you hear–there may be some. You’ll also learn a great deal about the person delivering the bad news.”
It’s Not Always You
You’re ten minutes late and the boss chews you out. You conclude that you are: 1) undependable, 2) worthless, and/or 3) soon to be unemployed. Stop the madness–the world does not revolve around you! Perhaps your boss is in the doghouse at home because he forgot to take out the trash, maybe his mother is seriously ill, or the spicy chili he ate last night is making his stomach hurt! It’s rarely as bad as you think.
Critics are no strangers to anxiety. Whether they are battling serious stressors in their lives–or happen to be miserable people in general–criticism is an anger outlet. You may be the target just because you’re conveniently in their path at the right time. Avoiding critics is impossible, but you can control their impact on you. Don’t get tangled in their web of unhappiness. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel small without your consent.”