Is there anything worse than being criticized? You work so hard on a project or proposal, you put together your best presentation, or you reach out to a colleague to ask for their opinion hoping to get accolades but instead get criticism. Being a person who writes a lot (blogs, a book, articles, etc.), presents in front of others often, and puts some new thoughts and approaches out there, I have felt the sting of receiving criticism from others. Being a coach who has worked with many successful executives, I have heard the pain of our clients as they have tried to be bold, tried the untried, and stepped outside their comfort zone with a new idea. Recently, while engaged in a team discussion on how to develop a Performance Mindset, someone asked a great question, “I understand the concept of feedback but it somehow turns into criticism, and that hurts. How can you avoid criticism?”
I paused for a second, and the answer came to me. I replied, "This is super easy... just do nothing, be nothing, and never take a risk." Suddenly, a quiet came over the room as I stood there waiting to see how my answer would be received. There is something powerful about that awkward silence where the light of the truth collides with the frustration of realizing that the truth is not acceptable.
The truth is that the root of criticism is perfectionism. It hurts us because we want to be perfect; unfortunately, perfect rarely exists. One observation I have made is that when I think of the most transformative leaders I work with, they all share the Performance Mindset skills of vulnerability, authenticity, and self-compassion. They have given up on trying to be perfect because that is based on external expectations that can't be controlled or achieved. They have learned how to avoid the seduction of perfectionism, which can make them think that they can avoid criticism - but they can’t. No one can.
So, what is a better approach? Instead of foolishly trying to avoid criticism, try embracing it (another version of embracing the suck). Criticism becomes harmless when you defuse it by choosing to see it as a confirmation that you are imperfect (an assumption a high performer must already accept) and seeing it as an opportunity to learn, grow, and improve. Criticism is also a confirmation that you took a chance and put yourself out there. It is a confirmation that you want to be better tomorrow than you were today. It is a reward for playing the game rather than sitting idly on the sideline.
The truth is, if you want to explore your full potential and make a greater impact on yourself and others, criticism will be a part of your future. While you may never learn to love it, you can certainly learn to embrace it, detach from it, smile at it, and learn from it.
As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.