Blessed is the man who can take bricks thrown
at him and build a strong foundation.
Sometimes I feel critics are like needles in a balloon factory, simply looking for an opportunity to “pop” my project, “blow away” new ideas or “deflate” recent accomplishments. On the other hand, Norman Vincent Peale says, “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” A balance of praise and criticism are required to achieve a successful personal and professional life.
All of us will be criticized at one time or other. In fact, if you are a creative person, committed to excellence, you’ll be surrounded by critics. Ben Franklin was criticized for flying a kite in an electrical storm. President George W. Bush was criticized by actor Richard Gere for declaring war on Osama Bin Laden. You will be criticized for making excellence your goal, sharing your faith, taking a stand, accepting a leadership position, not compromising your principles, speaking out or implementing change.
Critics and criticism will come your way if you’re leading the implementation and use of Activity Based Management (ABM), Six Sigma or any other process of improvement. There will be critics of your good work, bad work or your inactivity. Therefore, it’s important to understand the sources of criticism and determine what you’re going to do when it comes your way. Are you going to throw the “bricks” back, duck, or use them to build a strong foundation?
TYPES OF CRITICISM
- Constructive Criticism
Constructive comments reinforce good behavior or motivate us to make positive changes. Comedian Milton Berle was dining with his wife when a waiter put too much pepper on her salad. Mrs. Berle tasted it and offered a constructive criticism “Needs more salad.”
- Destructive Criticism
Negative criticism is unjustified when it results from the wrong motive. Psychologist and author Henry C. Link says, “If you wish to make enemies, tell people simply, ‘You are wrong’. This method works every time.”If they cannot explain why you’re wrong, their motive is likely destructive, not constructive.
- Misleading Criticism
Some criticism results from errors or lack of knowledge. Stanley Marcus, chairman emeritus of the Neiman Marcus stores, is concerned about misleading, inflated compliments. “We frequently hear something described as ‘terrific’ when it’s merely OK; or ‘fabulous’ when it is just good. Unsophisticated audiences are likely to react to artistic performances in one of two ways. One is to sit on their hands and not applaud because they don’t know what is good or bad. The other is to over-respond by reacting to a symphony in the same manner as a football crowd does to a forty-yard pass. Both reactions reflect a lack of knowledge which is not necessarily the fault of the members of the audience.” Consider the source of your criticism. Are they knowledgeable? If not, educate them.
- Absence of Criticism
Absence of criticism may sound appealing, but it often signals a lack of concern by those around you or an absence of leadership. A Gallup Poll published in First Break all the Rules found the most profitable companies are those where employees receive praise or criticism once a week. Silence leads to slippage, not success.
- Requested Criticism
The person who holds an attitude of “I’m perfect”or an organization with employees who feel “we don’t need to change”, are destined to fail. Eye on Excellence trainer Steve Phillips always closes his workshops with a request: “If you don’t rate me as outstanding, tell me why.”
To decide if criticism you’ve received is valid and useful, it is helpful to define the root cause of the critic’s comment. For example, the reasons why ABM critics say, “ABM is only for manufacturers”; “ABM is only for big companies”; “ABM systems cost too much”; or, “ABM systems are not useful” can be attributed to one or more of the following root causes:
CAUSES OF CRITICISM
- Lack of Trust
Trust is as important as competence. Skeptics tend to criticize the unknown. Do you over-promise and under-perform? Define steps to build your critic’s trust. Trust requires time, talent and a track record of success.
Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery said there are four types of soldiers in the British army: (a) smart and lazy; (b) smart and hardworking; (c) stupid and lazy; or, (d) stupid and hardworking. “You can work with or manage any combination but one. Stupid and hardworking!”What category fits your critic?
When you’re on to something good, critics that want you to fail will often appear. Thomas Stanley, Ph.D., author of The Millionaire Mind, says, “Successful people are different; they don’t follow the crowd. This often results in criticism from people in the crowd who want to steal your success.”Success often comes at the price of not being one of the gang.
A person can be defined by their fears. Fear of the unknown will bring out crowds of critics, especially when it comes to Activity Based Management, e.g. “What’s going to happen to the people who perform non-value activities?”What are your critic’s fears?
Negative criticism is sometimes used to gain an advantage in a transaction. While being interviewed on CNN’s Larry King Live, Donald Trump surprised King when he said, “Larry, do you mind if I sit back a little? Your breath is very bad.” The confused talk show host paused and then realized, “That’s how you get the edge in negotiations. That little comment you threw at me is something no one has ever told me.” Trump conceded,“You’re right Larry, your breath is great!” Is your critic a participant in a negotiation?
- Human Nature
It is instinctive for people to focus on the negative instead of the positive. Author, speaker and teacher Howard Hendricks uses the following illustration and group exercise to demonstrate human nature. He asks students to write comments about the following proposed wheelbarrow design:
Most people respond with negative criticisms of the design, e.g. wheel too small, handle too short, won’t hold much. It is human nature to criticize, to focus on flaws and denigrate new ideas like Activity Based Costing. Ask your critic to list three things they like about ABM/ABC. If they refuse, find out why. If they can’t articulate the reasons, educate them.
- Majority Rules
Psychologist Ruth Berenda and her associates performed a series of experiments to show how people handle group pressure. Groups of ten teenagers were brought into a room. At the front of the room was a chart with three lines, each a different length. What one teen did not know is that the other nine had been instructed ahead of time to vote for the second-longest line on a chart in the room. When the instructor pointed at the second-longest line and said, “Raise your hand if you think this is the longest line”, 75% of the time the stooge would glance at the other hands being raised and slip his hand up with the group. New methods, movements or ideas always have critics. This is especially true for Activity Based Management.
If your critic is from a different “political” party, their criticism may be rooted in opinion, not fact. Mark Twain once said, “We all know that in all matters of mere opinion that man is insane. Democrats are insane to Republicans and Republicans are insane to Democrats. The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane.” Recognize that some criticism will come your way because of your “party”, not you personally.
People will often attack things they don’t like, not things that are wrong. One of the things people don’t like is change. There are four prerequisites to effective change: (a) a clear, shared vision; (b) an internal capacity for change; (c) an external pressure to change; and, (d) actionable first steps. If any one is missing, the chances of success are seriously reduced. Are any of these four prerequisites missing in your organization?
- Concern for Others
Criticism can result from valid concerns. You may be doing an awesome job based on your targeted service level, but the recipient may have a completely different understanding. Communications and negotiations are required to bridge the expectations gap.
HOW TO DEAL WITH CRITICISM
- Be active, not passive
“I’m not into working out. My philosophy: No pain, no pain.” says comedian Carol Leifer. Despite what you might think, not implementing ABM or some other improvement may actually bring you more criticism than implementing it poorly. Character is developed through adversity, not when you’re coasting. Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.
- Speak the truth
False prophets are well spoken of because they don’t speak the truth. Truth sometimes hurts and it often alienates, but it is still the truth and the right thing to do. A man is known by his enemies. There are some people that I want as my enemy! You may have some critics for all the right reasons. An Air Force pilot once told me that the closer you get to the target, the greater the flack.
- Invite written criticism
Verbal criticism is often full of holes, poorly thought out and oft invalid. Invite your critics to submit their recommendations in writing. Don’t grieve over criticism pointed at you in unsigned letters. That’s a waste of your time. Unsigned notes indicate one of two things: the critic either didn’t have enough conviction to put their name to it or the sole intent was to hurt, not help you.
- Look for grains of truth
Repeated criticism can be a valid warning. If three people independently provide criticism on something you feel confident about, look for grains of truth in their comments. Engage your critics help by asking them three questions: (a) What’s positive about this idea?; (b) What’s interesting about it?; and, (c) What can I change to improve the idea? These responses turn a negative into a positive. Some times you won’t find a grain of truth in criticism. Even when you have been “falsely accused”, you can almost always find a “warning”. Ask your critic,“What are you afraid of?” Even when criticism is invalid, sometimes their fear is sound.
- Sort feelings from facts
I can’t look up someone’s feelings in a database to confirm their validity. If someone tells me, “I feel that ABM is not that good”, I won’t change their mind with an argument that begins with “You’re wrong!”Perceptions are factual. You have to deal with feelings when your business is all about perception. At ICMS we believe that perception is reality. We look for the drivers that cause people to feel as they do.
- Look for role models
How should we respond when criticized? We should look to replicate the actions of past or present role models. Look for people who have dealt with criticism effectively. Former Dallas Cowboy coach Tom Landry is one of my role models. He faced daily criticism during his 29 years as a NFL coach. Landry never lost his composure, maintained a firm commitment to excellence and never compromised his Christian faith. Who is your role model?
- Use discernment
Discernment is the ability to separate fact from fiction and the important from the trivial. To be able to discern the correct response to criticism requires wisdom. Wisdom that comes from study, experience and sometimes prayer. Develop a plan for handling criticism. Learn to get to the root cause of criticism, keeping your eyes on the big picture. A man once told me, “When you swim in the ocean, you get attacked by sharks and guppies. Don’t worry about the guppies.”
- Respond as a friend, not a foe
Human nature is to repel or run from criticism. It’s best to receive it and then deal with it. If criticism is misdirected, play the role as a friendly facilitator, e.g. “I am not the one you need to talk to, but I will help you make the connection you need.”
- Have a sense of humor
Humor helps diffuse destructive criticism and gracefully accept that which we need to apply. Charles Swindoll, in Laugh Again, says, “A good sense of humor enlivens our discernment and guards us from taking everything that comes down the pike too seriously. By remaining lighthearted, by refusing to allow our intensity to gain the mastery of our minds, we remain much more objective.”
- Combine criticism with praise
Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, died last week. She had a phenomenal positive impact on thousands of people during her lifetime. One of her most famous sayings was, “Sandwich every bit of criticism between two heavy layers of praise.”Her advice makes every criticism a positive event. If your business associate had ten things to do, eight of which were done to perfection, don’t spend 80% of your time talking about the two things they did wrong.
I believe there is a fundamental need for every person to know that someone cares if we are good or bad. I remember staying up all night finishing a research paper for a college class. I handed it in Monday and got it back Wednesday with only a little pencil check next to my name. Clearly the teacher never bothered to read it; he just gave me credit for doing it. How did I feel? I felt cheated. Why knock myself out if nobody cares? Criticism given, whether negative or positive, means somebody cares. Don’t be discouraged by criticism. Instead be encouraged that you’ve gained someone’s attention with your words or actions.