Re-post: Is Everything Awesome?

How to handle criticism and still look good

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” – Proverbs 27:6 (ESV)

I enjoyed The Lego Movie so much I watched it twice.

The protagonist Emmet’s favorite song in his orderly world is “Everything Is Awesome,” even as he fails to see the creeping tyranny of President/Lord Business.

Thumbs up? Ehh…not so much!

Millennials have been taking some flak from Baby Boomers and GenXers (whose turn it is to run things right now).  The complaint is that Millennials can’t take criticism — that the slightest word of correction becomes an existential wound.  (Don’t be mad at me — I’m just telling you what they said.)

Indulgent Boomer parents sought to build self esteem by removing the possibility of failure.  Therefore everyone got a participation trophy just for participating in leagues where no team was allowed to keep score or track statistics.  Let’s be fair.  That wasn’t your choice or your fault, but the unfamiliar sting of criticism can cause rational people — that is, people who seek to avoid pain — to indulge one of two responses: 1) withdrawal and avoidance or 2) delusion.

We see (or don’t) withdrawal and avoidance among the guys who make one bold stab at an objective and give up if it isn’t immediately successful.  The deluded guys are like candidates auditioning in the first round of American Idol — brimming with confidence and the assurances of their colleagues that “I sound Just like Brian McKnight/Brad Paisley/Chad Kroeger” when, in fact, they couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.  When an honest appraisal comes into conflict with the delusion, the indignation that results can be entertaining television, but it would get most people fired.

Learning to handle criticism

First, let’s agree that everything isn’t awesome.  Not everyone is going to like you or get your jokes.  Each one of us has some strengths and weaknesses — and the process of discovering which are which involves multiple cycles of trial, error and feedback.  Criticism is feedback. Here are some tips to help you become more resilient when you receive, say, negative feedback at work.

Never Let ‘Em See You Sweat

Getting a bad review or being criticized isn’t fun.  Nobody enjoys it.  But how you respond can put you in a more favorable light if you do it right.  First, keep in mind that most bosses with a brain aren’t criticizing your entire being – just a behavior or a result.  It is too easy to react emotionally, but this isn’t the venue. Keep your composure.   It’s good advice when you’re on the receiving end of an unfavorable opinion.

Keep Your Head Up

Make eye contact.  Ask questions.  Take notes.  Regard this as an opportunity to learn.  Specifically ask the one offering the criticism how you can improve.  Often asking for advice puts you and your critic on the same side of an issue.

NOTE: If the situation is too tense, it’s OK to break off and come back with your questions.

Don’t make excuses

Most of us want to save face, to prove that we aren’t as bad as all that.  Your boss is trying to communicate something to you.  When you are making excuses, you are using your mouth when you should be using your ears.  So do this instead: reply by restating the criticism in your own words.   Your boss will understand whether the message is getting through, or he will have the opportunity to clarify it for you.

Check it out

Not all criticism is justified or correct.  Before you totally overhaul your existence, reflect on the substance and  nature of the criticism.  Does it seem accurate?   If you have a mentor who’ll shoot you straight (and you really should), arrange to discuss this with him and let him give you his perspective.  If you seek counsel, listen to wisdom, and put his advice into practice.

Shake it off

Haters gonna hate, and there is no pleasing or compromising with some people.  Certain ideas cannot be reconciled (try round squares on for size), so if you’ve examined the criticism from your own and from a trusted advisor’s point of view and found it to be baseless, you can motor on.  Recognize that this may entail changing positions, divisions or companies.  I like what the late Brent Curtis said: “Let the world feel the weight of who you are and let them deal with it.”

Rub some dirt on it

Spend time — and money if necessary — to correct legitimate faults.  Get professional coaching, whether it be singing, golf, interviewing skills, ballroom dancing or public speaking that’s holding you back.  Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and get better.

Just as Emmet in “The Lego Movie” had to recognize his ordinariness to become extraordinary, you can accept criticism and use it as a springboard to a better version of yourself.

So how about you?  How does criticism affect you?  How are you becoming resilient?  Add your comments below.

Lego minifig courtesy of D.R. Short

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. Bring your best manners, please.

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