How to Deal With Criticism

I’ve never been to a bullfight, but I can’t imagine it’s much different than many of the scientific research conferences that I’ve attended.

Let me set the scene for you. At these research conferences, a brave soul wanders up on stage in a nondescript hotel ballroom, explains their recent study (often awkwardly stumbling through a verbatim reading of PowerPoint slides), and then draws a measured conclusion from their data. Seems simple and harmless enough, right? Worthy of polite applause at the very least.

Well, you’d think so. But throughout the entire presentation, the critical tension in the audience is growing. You might even catch some of the audience pawing the floor like a bull does with his hoof before it charges.

As soon as the scientist wraps up on stage, there’s a mad stampede to the microphone to see who can make the most critical observation about the scientist’s study and conclusion.

“Why did you use this technique? You should have done it this way,” the first critic will say with venom rushing through their veins.

“Your results are invalid because you did not have enough subjects!” claims another. (This old fallback criticism never goes out of style, even if the researcher used hundreds of subjects.)

On and on it goes until they’ve extracted their pound of flesh and are ready to bring forth another sacrificial lamb to the stage.

For some reason, these otherwise timid and polite men and women turn into Interpol interrogators in this environment, where they feel free to unleash a barrage of attacks and criticism onto their colleagues.

When I was young and naive, I viewed this as good sport.

Now I know better.

It is only now that I understand that the critical researchers are often scared of the change that these new results might bring to their world. They want to preserve the status quo. They use criticism not as weapons, but as a tool to defend their way of life.

And so it is with most of the criticism that you will receive in your life.

Perhaps you’re trying to eat better, quit smoking, or eliminate bad spending habits. Left to your own devices, you’d be doing very well, thank you very much, following a simple plan for success.

But reality often gets in the way of your best-laid plans, doesn’t it?

The people at work, your family at home, or your longtime friends seem to be constantly pecking away at your decisions and testing your resolve. The criticism they lob at you can hurt, and can even destroy your good intentions.

“You’re wasting your time,” the critics will start, “Nothing ever works for you.”

“Are you on another diet? How long will this one last?” they sneer.

“You, save money? Ha, that’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard,” they might even mock.

And these are just a few of the polite common criticisms you could hear. You can probably imagine more hurtful comments from people close to you.

It can all be too much to bear – but only if you let it.

You see, here’s the truth about dealing with criticism.

Criticism is a sign of weakness, not strength.

It is defensive, not offensive.

And you, my friend, are stronger than all of it.

It’s easier to deal with criticism and attacks when you see them for what they really are, that the criticism and attacks are simply ways for the attacker to protect themselves from whatever it is in life that they are lacking; whether it is talent, the courage to act, integrity, self-esteem or self-confidence.

The criticism leveled upon you is simply a defensive tactic by the criticizer to protect their ego. Once you understand that, you might actually feel sorry for the attacker, and you can laugh at or brush off the negativity and keep marching forward.

How do I know this?

Because I have first hand experience of being on both sides.

When I was young, immature, and selfish, I was often highly critical of others. There were many things in life that I didn’t want to change, and so I would use criticism to defend my position.

But this did not serve me. And so, after seeking out virtual mentors like Michael Masterson through his essays at Early to Rise, I came to my senses. Over time I matured and became a better person, less critical and more thoughtful and open to the opinions of others. Dare I say, even welcoming of change.

Plus, now that I’m older and somewhat wiser, I’m also receiving my fair share of criticism and attacks, mostly via the Internet from anonymous sources. Readers of my fitness newsletter have called me a balding, skinny little runt. Others have called my dog and I, “pathetic.” (Hey, easy on the dog, he’s sensitive!)

But none of this matters. I will not let spiteful criticism and verbal attacks from anyone deter me from going after what is truly important to me.

It’s essential that you understand how little harm that words can do – as you know, words can never hurt you – unless you let them. But you won’t, at least not anymore, now that you know the true reason for those words being hurled at you.

Criticism is the first and last defense of someone that feels inadequate around your power and accomplishment. They are scared. You should feel sorry for them, but not for yourself.

Now that you see how the world of criticism works, you’ll no longer be fearful of it. You’ll no longer let it hold you back. You’ll no longer curtail your own ambitions because you dread critical attacks.

Instead, from today on forward, you are going to live stronger, bigger, and better than ever before.

The world needs people that achieve great things. The world needs you to live up to your potential. The world needs you and your talents and your big ideas now more than ever. The world needs you to be the best and biggest you that you can be.

There are many people, just like you once were, that want to improve their lives in one way or another, but they need a leader. You can be that person. And when you do take charge and ignore the critics, you will become an exponentially better person.

When you live and lead by example, you can only improve. So stand up what is right for you at this time. Stand up against your critics. Stand up for others. When you do, you will make everyone better. Stay strong, get stronger, and keep pushing on. I’m right here with you.
[Ed. Note. Craig Ballantyne is the editor of Early to Rise and author of Financial Independence Monthly and Turbulence Training. He is also the co-creator of the Early to Rise $100,000 Transformation Contest. Though this round of the Transformation Contest has closed it’s not too late to access to all the helpful tools and advice that helped many people make a positive change in their lives. Get started on your major life transformations today.]

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  • Floyd

    Excellent Article
    “Throughout History… No Statue Has Ever Been Built For A Critic”

    Do You Have any suggestions/tips on giving constructive criticsm?

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Floyd, yes, thank you. For constructive criticism, be as nice, positive, and polite as possible. Frame what you are about to say by telling the person how feedback once helped you, and then tell them you are giving them feedback, not criticism.

    • Tom W

      People lie to me. I listen to the lies. I believe the lies as true. I act on the lies as if they are true … and that’s when I create my own problems. A simple question helps me, “is this true”? If it is true and I do not like it, I can take action to change. But the real beauty is that if it is not true I no longer have to waste my time dealing with it!

  • derek

    i’m not a physicist by any stretch…perhaps, if i were i might make better sense. That being said, please know that i’m not trying to be derisive, either, when i say that i don’t look at this as a “black sheep’ being a negative. There are plenty of white sheep, white lies, and angel food cakes out there. I jus’ happen to prefer chocolate cake, devil’s food, and double espresso, and my a la mode… That doesn’t make them, nor me, bad. The nineteenth century, Freud, is a maverick, and i, be a cathartic release for the consciousness, that wants to perpetuate the greatest lie that’s still being told. Fear is a motivator and “de-motivator”. Dollars and sense, is the common denominator…

  • Good post Craig. I am not an anonymous prankster 🙂

  • Salvatore

    Also criticism is usually a clue of a very simple fact, the critic has done something bad to you and is trying to lessen the bad deed by lessening the beingness of the person they are criticizing.

  • Mike

    I recently came to the conclusion that criticism is the easiest job in the world. People that take the job are the laziest people because they don’t actually do anything. I just ask ” How did it work out for you when you did it?” Wonderful article, thank you.

  • Jim

    Craig:

    Excellent point! Thank you for sharing that with us.

    It is especially hard when it comes from ones who are suppose to love you.

    It encourages me to constantly examine my motives and ambitions as to whether they are pure or not.

    If so, proceed on.

  • Irene Hurdle

    Thank you so much for this insightful article. My younger sister has been very critical of me, and has spread a lot of poison behind my back. I knew she was jealous of my higher education and financially more successful life, but now I know that that all that jealousy is about her, not me.

    And as one of those very sensitive, creative types who can be devastated by criticsm, I can now deal with other people’s criticisms in a more empowered way.

  • This is one of the best articles I’ve read since coming across your website! Thanks for some great advice on how to understand criticism, Craig. In the last several years, I have gone through a dark wilderness of my identity, pinpointing my critical nature and separating it from my actual talent. It feels good to be on the other side of it now, moving forward with an actual business plan. Now that I am doing this, however, the tables have turned. I am now the target. How fitting!

    When I examine the criticism, I quickly find it comes from a fear of achievement (fear of self) from the critic. (Been there.) The criticism I now experience, when I look at it and see how it makes me feel, is not even criticism though. It is bullying. I at least was taught in school how to constructively give feedback (even if mine was harsh sometimes, I never bullied).

    With this in mind, I am ignoring negative attacks, but if they persist…? In the future, I’m going to try the age old recipe of “love your enemy”.

  • Tim

    an interesting article. but you must be surrounded by a lot of critical people. Everyone I am around is very positive and encouraging about my attempts at weight loss and my attempts at making money

  • Ken Stewart

    Excellent article. I’ve attended many scientific conferences and symposia and have moderated some, where occasionally a critic of the speaker would voice an off-the-wall pompous statement or question that would make me cringe. I usually assumed it was for the simple purpose of being noticed. (Professors generally are the worst.) You put it in a slightly different context very nicely. I’m a technical person and could not have written this as well. Good stuff to remember.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Thanks Ken!

  • Kim

    I enjoyed the article and have been on both sides also. Growing up I was teased and made fun of a lot but like you said it was because of someone’s insecurity not their strenth. I don’t agree that words don’t hurt you, even though I am a very strong person words still effect me but I am getting better at not taking them so personally.

  • Thanks for this Craig. When I got my first ‘hater’ the 2 things that got me through were the overwhelming support from Everyone else and even more so, seeing how people I respect such as yourself deal with the inevitable critic/hater.
    Also my first one was so thorough (!) that I figure I’m well prepared for anything to come! It makes you think how much fun life must Not be for someone who can get so worked up so easily and so needlessly. Cheers again, I love reading your posts.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Thank you Kate!

  • Hugh A. Benham

    An excellent article! I have often been on both sides of the exchange and yet one’s immediate reaction (okay mine) is often to hurtle a criticism right back at the other individual. Not only, are you reflecting bad behaviour and giving energy to it, you are doing nothing positive for either of you. Heretofore, I shall listen to others intently. If information provided to me is useful, shall take steps to implement immediately. If not, disregard without prejudice and move on. Life is too short to do otherwise!

    With Gratitude and Respect,
    Hugh A. Benham

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Thank you, Hugh!

  • Karen

    Of the many excellent articles of yours that I have read, I consider this to be one of the most inspirational. The advice on how and why we can all rise above criticism is appreciated. Even more so, the plainly stated fact that, in my words, when we make the effort to live up to our potential we transform not just ourselves for the better, we also enhance the lives of others and make an impact on the world. I’ve never made the effort to comment on any article before but this has impacted on me and I thank you for it.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Thank you Karen, that’s very nice of you to say that.

  • Lynda

    This also applies to the people that claim they are not criticizing, but merely telling you the truth. They have their opinion, that was formed from their own experiences and life filters, and now it is FACT! Their facts have nothing to do with you, but are strictly in their own head.

  • Sol

    Interesting article!
    But I want to criticize (heh) one thing: I cannot imagine every criticism is others feeling worth less than me. What if I or someone else truly make a mistake, or have negative habits that impact our impression on others?
    Or, say, I need a lot of time to work on a customer’s project. Too much in my boss’ opinion (she’s got numbers of what my time costs and what the customer pays for it after all). If she then tells me that I need to get faster, it’s something I better think about.

    • There is criticism, constructive criticism, and coaching. It’s up to us to know which is each, and what is worth listening to. Appreciate your feedback, thanks!