Criticism can be really hard to receive. It doesn’t matter if the person offering it is doing so kindly and with good intentions, these are difficult conversations.
This is true on a personal level, and also with our businesses. We’re so passionate about our work, we pour so much of our energy and heart into it, to hear someone step in and criticize that work is really tough. Our natural reaction is to ignore these critics and tell ourselves they don’t know what they’re talking about. They don’t! Right?
Listening to critics is one of the most useful tools an entrepreneur can have. Whether you ultimately agree with your critics or not, just allowing yourself to hear what they’re saying is a huge step, and a strength for your business. In order to build your company and look towards its future, you need to learn to hear your faultfinders.
When you get criticism—solicited or unsolicited—it’s important to take serious stock of the source it’s coming from. Know who your biggest supporters are, and have an idea of who not to count among them.
Is this person someone you trust? Are they a mentor? A business partner? A company partner? How well do they know your work? These criticisms, from people who know me and my company well often hurt the most, because they’re coming from people whose opinions matter the most. They’re often also the best advice. These are the people that care for you and want to see you succeed. Don’t discount them.
Of course, we all have some of the other kind of advice-givers, the unsolicited advisors who show up when we’re down. These are the people who always know in hindsight what should have been done differently. Know who these people are in your life, and don’t internalize their criticisms or let them become limiting beliefs. Someone who’s really looking out for you and your company’s best interest will be there before you make the mistake, not just after.
The Practice of Listening
Regardless of who the criticism is coming from –trusted sources or someone else – practice listening to it. This person is not you, they have a different understanding of your company and your plans than you do, and therefore, what they’re saying is valuable. It’s a new lens for you to see your work through. So listen!
After you’ve heard their advice, consider it honestly. Is there any truth in it? Why is this person sharing this criticism with you, now? You might not agree with any of the advice. Sometimes, people give terrible advice. Just make sure you know why it’s terrible. Maybe it doesn’t fit with your vision for your company. Maybe they don’t understand your business model. Know why you’re choosing not to accept it.
Often, people give mostly incorrect criticisms with a few grains of truth in them. Try to identify what these grains of truth are, and respond productively. You don’t even need to say anything to your critic, but incorporate what you’ve learned as your move forward.
Even if the criticism is from someone you trust wholeheartedly, listen and consider it before taking action. Trust your own judgments also. This is your company and your vision, make sure you’re staying true to it.
In a recent episode, I got to sit down with Neil Patel, who started several unsuccessful companies on the way to the huge success he is now. Neil told me, “You’re going to make mistakes as an entrepreneur. But if you can avoid making those same mistakes over and over again, you’ll increase your chance at succeeding.” (13:13 in audio)
Mistakes are a natural part of life. From them, we gain experience and insight into ourselves and how we think. What’s important is to not keep making the same mistakes over and over and to keep our minds open to people who might see our mistakes before we make them. Listen when people tell you they think you’re about to make a mistake. You don’t have to agree with them, you don’t even have to respond, just listen. You’ll be surprised at what you might learn, about business and about yourself.