There have been a couple of very important people in my professional life who taught me the importance of not giving two craps about negativity that doesn’t offer any kind of insight into how you can improve. Here are the lessons I’ve learned. I hope they help you, too.
When I worked for a media outlet, I received all kinds of email messages and phone calls critiquing everything from the pitch of my voice to the way I pronounced certain words to the way I wrote my news stories. (My favorite phone call came from a guy who swore I was saying the word “inclement” incorrectly. He insisted I needed to put the emphasis on the second syllable instead of the first. Say it out loud that way. It sounds weird. For the record, both ways are correct.)
The fearless leader of our station advised me to listen to all the feedback I received, evaluate it, take anything that’s potentially helpful, and forget about the rest. What I like about this approach is that you give the other person the basic courtesy of listening to them. But the best part is possibly gleaning something useful from their critique, no matter how tactlessly it’s delivered. Taking this attitude instantly removes defensiveness. This approach allows you to view feedback as an opportunity to get better, discard anything that isn’t helpful, and move on.
One time, a woman called our station. She complained to our fearless leader that we repeated some of our programming. Our leader’s response? Turn off the radio! I absolutely love this because it shows that one person’s gripe didn’t undermine our long-standing commitment to a broadcast schedule that aimed to serve our audience well and get the most bang for our programming buck. This one person’s habit of listening to the radio for hours at a time was unusual. We know from research that most people tune in and out of programs as they go through their day. So, we didn’t let this one person’s gripe cause us to change course. And I love how devoid of defensiveness the response is: don’t like what we’re doing? Go someplace else.
If someone doesn’t like your writing, your keytar playing in a field of horses, or anything else you do, remember that the critique is about that isolated thing, not you as a person. If their negative feedback is framed as a personal attack, then the problem is theirs, not yours. I’ve found the people who squawk the loudest in degrading others often have the lowest self-esteem.
Remember, you’ve accomplished something extraordinary: you’ve written a novel, composed a song, performed a role, or achieved some other feat that few others have. That, in and of itself, is enough to make you proud, regardless of what mud someone might sling at you. So, go ahead. Play the heck out of that keytar.
Top image via Flickr by xlordashx
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