Putting Praise and Criticism in their Place

Podcast Episode 9. Listen Here.

I’ve been a praise junkie for most of my life. If I did things and nobody noticed, it felt as though I might as well not have bothered. To some extent I’m still like that – the blog with no likes and no comments? No thanks! (Admittedly, as a new blogger, I’m having to make my peace with that, at least for now.)

Earlier this week,  a friend and I were having a conversation about some she received from her dad. She was incredibly hurt by it and it’s been playing on her mind ever since. That conversation was the inspiration for this weeks podcast.

For most of us, our happiness is, at least in part, linked to what others think of us and the praise and criticism they share with us. As someone who made that feedback paramount in her life for too long, there are some lessons I’ve learned (and some I’m still learning) and I’d like to share those with you in case they’re of use.

1. Unhook the task from the feedback.

In her book, Playing Big, Tara Mohr talks about unhooking from praise and criticism. This means doing a task for the joy of doing it rather than doing it for the praise that comes from it. It also means doing a task you want to do even if others will criticise you for it.

When our actions are driven by the need for praise or the fear of criticism, we lose some part of ourselves, some part of what we value and what we think and believe. Instead we get carried on the waves of other peoples’ opinions, at the mercy of the changing tides. Doing things this way rarely ends in contentment or satisfaction.

2. Beware of thinking someone else’s feedback is about you.

I learned this in my work as a corporate trainer and it is reiterated in Mohr’s book. I could deliver a workshop and have 99% positive feedback. I’d have people come up afterwards to thank me in person. One person even cried with gratitude. Then I’d have someone say something like they found the content dull and my delivery disengaging. One person actually used those words. It was 12 years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday. I lost an entire weekend crying about that feedback.

It took me years to realise that feedback told me very little about my skill as a trainer or the quality of the material I was delivering. It told me much more about an individual’s mindset and ability to make positive use of the training. When I realised that, I ironically became a better trainer. Feedback became a source of information – one I now seek early and often in the workshops I deliver. That way I can chart my course and I’m better able to reflect on what my delegates need from me and how I might be able to help them unlock their thinking.

3. It doesn’t matter whether or not the feedback is true

Arguably, opinions are never true or untrue so it’s a moot point but most of us, on receipt of criticism, agonise over whether or not it’s true; whether or not it’s justified.

If we only ever seek to treat feedback as an opinion, we’re free to take it or leave it. If potential customers tell you they don’t like your product, you’re free to look elsewhere for customers or adapt to the preferences of that customer group.

If the criticism comes from someone you care about and with whom you would prefer to have a strong relationship, you could decide to talk to that person and find out more about what led them to feel the way they feel.

Of course, if the feedback comes from someone you don’t wish to maintain a relationship with, you could choose to ignore it entirely.

The validity of the feedback is less relevant than the importance of the relationship it rose out of.

4. Making the necessary change isn’t solely your responsibility.

This one applies to feedback within relationships.

Another common mistake I see with feedback is that it’s implied that the receive of the feedback has sole responsibility for making the necessary change. I don’t think that’s productive.

In relationships – both work and home – it takes all parties to work together to make necessary changes if those changes are to be productive long term.

5. Screw criticism!

When the fear of criticism is stopping you from doing something, a little dose of Richard Branson’s ethos might come in handy. His philosophy of ‘Screw It! Let’s do it!” is perfect for getting those of us who’re scared of leaping to get out there, wind in our hair, and jump!

It’s hard for many of us to believe but most people genuinely don’t care very much about what we do so we only receive criticism when something we’ve done is important enough for someone else to react to.

I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t take this advice myself so this week I’m going to share my podcast episode with more than just the handful of people I knew would be supportive. Now I find myself wondering…what would feel worse? Criticism or absolute disinterest?

I’d love to hear from you if you have comments or questions, particularly if there’s something you’ve been putting off for fear of criticism and you’ve chosen this week to take the leap.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. mitchteemley says:

    Wise words, Natalie! There was just one thing you said that could have been better phrased and… Just kidding, but if I wasn’t I you’d have handled it well. ;>) Have a great weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mitchteemley says:

      Oops, that should have read “I KNOW you’d have handled it well.” (Hate the fact that we can’t edit comments on WordPress.)

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Big Happy Life says:

      Hehe! I’d do my very best!
      Thanks Mitch! Have a great weekend.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. brainembryos says:

    These are really useful, concise reminders. I like no.1 ‘unhook’ the task! Nice image. Very much what my intention has been for starting a blog recently too, and I’ve been getting so much enjoyment from it. Sharing is still a little unnerving but, much easier to take because I’m writing for myself and if others happen to like it as well that’s exciting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Big Happy Life says:

      I’m totally with you! It’s a nerve wracking experience writing for anyone to read and not knowing what people will say. Unhooking is definitely the way forward – though still sometimes quite difficult. I’m thrilled you found the post useful!


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