Criticism is one of the most useful things in the world.
Thanks to criticism:
-My writing has improved immensely
-I’ve become a better entrepreneur
-I’ve become a better person (in terms of knowledge, the way I act towards others, and my values).
A perfect example:
Before I started my radio show, I thought I was a wonderful public speaker. When I went in for my first taping, I got through five minutes…and stopped. I was out of ideas; caught-up, and unable to keep talking. I had two guest interviews, which I completely bombed.
“Oh man”, I thought. ”I suck at this!”
The producer–who was taping the show for me–went over, in excruciating detail, all of the mistakes I made. I think this actually lasted longer than the show itself.
Eight shows later, this routine continues. I tape my show, and then the producer gives me extensive criticism on my performance.
Criticism gets a bad rap because people think first about their emotions (“you said something mean about me!”) before thinking about its use. Can we look beyond the emotions and see some value in it? I can easily think of my own experience:
My radio show is way better than the first time I went. All of my improvement is thanks to exactly two things: 1.) criticism, and 2.) practice.
What do you want? To feel content and comfortable, but only mediocre at what we do? Or do you want to be criticized and drilled down, but be one of the best in your field?
You must make it a goal to solicit and use criticism.
How you too can come to love criticism:
1. Have an intellectual understanding of why criticism is important.
As you’ve noticed, my big theme is mindset inspires action. Having an intelligent understanding of why criticism is good makes it easier to react to it, and see beyond the typical negative emotions associated with it.
a. It’s too difficult for you–as someone still in the process of mastery–to know all of the mistakes you are making. Going back to my radio show example: one of my big problems was that I talked too fast. But how would I have known that without feedback? As a speaker, we know what we will say, so the speed of speech is irrelevant to us; so we don’t pick up on it.
b. Keeps you from “reinventing the wheel” by making tried-and-failed mistakes. So, if I wanted to start a blog, what would be most useful? Trying to write articles in a bunch of different ways and seeing what took off, or learning from others about the best format?
c. Gives you an ally invested in your success. This goes to surrounding yourself with people who will help you grow and improve; but it’s also important because people value their opinion, and especially like other people listening to what they have to say. By getting someone involved in your success, you make them an ally and a long-term asset; this helps you build personal credibility. Think of my show producer, who became an ally in helping me improve my broadcasting.
It also means:
Choosing to reject criticism is to reject improvement. Rejecting improvement is to reject personal development.
2. Understand how criticism fits into your overall success mindset.
Being open to criticism is an integral part of the main idea for success, specifically:
a. Understand failure as an opportunity to improve. It makes knowing how to improve pretty easy if someone just tells you what you did wrong, doesn’t it?
b. Challenge the assumptions you make, and don’t hold yourself back as a result, specifically the foundation that criticism is so terrible.
c. Unwavering desire to improve oneself, which means being more interested in knowing how to do better than worrying about your “feelings”.
3. Think about how much easier life would be if you felt more comfortable criticizing someone. Got that image? Now, think about how other people feel about criticizing YOU!
I once had a professor that was a terrible instructor. His in-class presence was sullen and uninspiring (and certainly in violation of my basic presentation skills, an article coming soon). To say the least, going to class was less than pleasant.
I mentioned to one of my friends before class, “I’m going to meet with this professor next week. I think I’ll point how some simple improvements in his presentation abilities would drastically improve the quality of instruction”.
My friend’s eyes widened.
“You can’t just go into his office and tell him how to teach! He’s the professor!”
Think about it, though:
It really would have been a win-win situation for the professor and me: his class would have been better, and he would have been able to improve an incredibly important skill.
Think about how you could make things better if you could share with others advice for improvement. Now turn the tables: if you’re doing something wrong, wouldn’t it be easier overall if someone were to just tell you “you’re doing this wrong”?
4. Practice being criticized.
I’m really not kidding. Actually go do something someone will criticize you for. I don’t mean “go rob a car”; I mean go take a step towards your goal. Be like me, and try to start the radio show. After you get a bit of less-than-positive feedback, you’ll feel pretty comortable.
You should practice being criticized because the best way to get more comfortable with criticism is to be criticized. Don’t you think Obama’s probably gotten used to it by now? Do you think the same thing might work for you?
You worry about criticism because you’re not used to it. You get used to something through practice. It’s the exact same concepts I talk about in Motivation for Smart People and The Productivity Mindset.
So get used to–and grow to like–criticism. I can’t help but think of all of the wonderful things people would do with their lives and for society, except that they are too fearful of criticism.
Do you really want a paper tiger like criticism holding you back? If the answer is no, might I suggest an alternative?
Now that you understand the importance of criticism, read The Feedback Loop to see how to habitually receive useful and informed criticism.