As women leaders, we can’t control all the criticism or judgment that we’re going to receive from others.
It doesn’t matter how big or small your vision is. The very nature of declaring that you stand for something, or that you’re making any kind of change, opens us up to feedback from others.
Whether you’re changing the world, your family life, or your personal health habits, there’ll be someone who wants to give you their opinion on exactly what you’re doing and why it’s time to rethink it. Sometimes we can laugh it off – some random person on Twitter thinks I need to take a different vitamin supplement? Fine.
But sometimes, it hurts. When you tell your kids you’re thinking of signing up for a new course and they laugh at you: “Mum! You’re too old!”
When you share your brilliant new strategy with a colleague you love and straight away they pick holes in it.
Or when you tell your mum about the bold decision you’re taking to become a coach, and she refers to it snidely as “your new phase for the next five years”.
The truth is, we can’t stop it. We can’t make people in the world nicer. (At least, not all of the time.)
And the bigger your vision, and the more people find out about it, the more likely all sorts of otherpeople are going to find out about it. Guess how many of them will have an opinion to share?
But if we can’t change them, or make them nicer, or more loving, or tell them that they have to give us feedback sandwiches, there is one thing we can do.
We can learn to comfort our inner selves
We can learn to parent ourselves, so that when we receive negative feedback, we are more resilient, and we are more loving.
And ultimately, we can learn to make sure that criticism doesn’t stop us from moving on our vision. To use it as an opportunity to learn, and to implement a better or more useful way for achieving the vision, that doesn’t stop us in our tracks.
Know where criticism or judgment comes from
I know firsthand how important it is to find ways of dealing with criticism. In the past I’ve had a lot of ideas for projects. But one word from my husband – which he might not even have meant as a criticism – and I would take it very personally, and shut down the whole idea before it got started.
Eventually, I really tuned into the fact that I was letting this happen. And at that point, I thought about who Greg is. Now I know that his particular energy involves saying “no”. (If you’re aware of the wealth dynamics profile, he’s a Lord). It’s just how he tests and gives input to ideas. He’s a hole-picker by nature. But the thing about that “no” is, it’s not personal. It doesn’t mean “no” to the entire vision. It’s just a challenge, and if he’s challenging my vision it actually means that he’s interested in it and making it the best it can be.
Once I got that, I quickly realized: okay, this is good, but I can’t change him. I can’t change how he is going to respond when I bring an idea. All I can change is my own resilience level.
I can shift things so that I’m more robust, and resilient when I go in with an idea, knowing that he will probably respond with the “no” initially because he filters every new thing through “how can this be better?”
So how do I do that? And how can you do it too?
Start with self love
At the baseline of all of our resilience and strength is self-love. So, start by considering your ongoing habits of self-love; recognition of your body, mind, and spirit, and the beautiful being that you are, and nurturing and nourishing that.
In our BeLove retreat we delve into habits to support you with that self-love in much greater detail. You could think about things like journaling, spontaneous moments of luxury, and gratitude. Feeling thankful for what is, and what you have, and who you are. All of these self-loving actions that you do, that have you feeling better and better about yourself over time are really, really crucial when it comes to handling criticism.
It’s that self-love that builds up your resilience, your confidence, and your self-esteem, so that you feel you can open up, and be vulnerable, and stand behind your vision. It’s like a muscle that you build over time – an exercise.
Self-love is the foundation that allows you to deal with criticism from a place of strength. And with that in place, here’s how to handle it when it arrives.
How to deal with criticism
So from time to time you’re going to receive some criticism. It might be out of the blue, or it might be that you have a great idea, and you share it with someone else and they tell you “It’s a terrible idea. It would never work because of this,” or “No. We can’t do that,” or “Who on earth are you to think that you could change the world like that?” Or “You idiot, you think having a green smoothie is going to help you lose weight. What a stupid idea!”
Whatever it might be, you will get criticized.
Here are 6 steps to take when you receive it
Be prepared to listen
If you’re actively going into a situation where you’re declaring a vision to someone, whether it be at your team, your spouse, to the world, on Facebook… Know that you are about to become vulnerable, and don’t let your shame stop you from sharing something you feel called to share. Just go there and do it. And if you receive criticism, be ready to hear it the whole way through. You might read something on Facebook, or Twitter, or it might come straight back to you from your spouse. Be clear that you will hear it the whole way through.
Take time out
Once you’ve heard the criticism all the way through, it’s time for you privately. If you’re in a conversation, don’t get into an argument or start justifying or disputing their points. Just say, “Thank You.” Take yourself away, and it’s time to enter your processing time.
Grab your journal, your pen and paper, and write down what bothered you about the feedback you’ve received. What’s activating you? Which are the parts that really made a big difference? Or were really yucky? What triggered you?
And then ask yourself the next question, which is: what could be helpful? Is there anything useful in this criticism?
If the answer is no – just let it go. Sometimes it’s just so obvious it’s someone else’s stuff, or is irrelevant to you. Social media “brain farts”, as my husband calls them, don’t really need much more processing than that.
But if you sense there is something more for you there…
Activate self love
At this stage, it’s really important to implement the criticism antidote – and that is self-love.
Straight away, go draw a bath with lots of essential oils, and enjoy it. Or go out for a walk, or give yourself a delicious little hand massage, or read some lovely success stories or testimonials that clients have sent you, or something that makes you feel good about you. Do something that nurtures you, and is very self-loving.
Then with that self-love in place you can come back to the criticism, and ask yourself: is this reminding me of anything from the past? Is this actually not about this criticism? Is it triggering something from the past? And if it is, then think about how you can release it. (We have a great audio recording to help you release limiting emotions available to all our BeOne community members – you can sign up here to receive yours).
Write the letter
This is my favorite antidote to criticism, which I use quite a bit – I learnt this from Julia Cameron, in her great book the Artist’s Way. She says: write the letter. Now this is not a letter you’re ever going to send! It’s a letter to the person who is putting you down, or said the thing that hurt, and what’s important is to write it as if you were six years old. Use six year old language.
You’re just so mean. I can’t believe you said that. Didn’t you have your weetabix for breakfast? You’re a horrible, horrible, horrible person. Lalalala.
Whatever it is, right? Just get it all out, in a vindicating letter from your younger self. I really, really love doing this one, and I think you might find it helpful too. Because it allows your young self to be heard, and to be voiced.
(And for the love of God, don’t ever send the letter, right? Don’t ever, ever send that letter!)
- Get back in the ring
Once you’ve done that, you put it to the side, and get right back out there and into the vulnerability again.
Because you’ve got to get out there. You’ve got to keep stepping up. Go back, and finish the conversation. If it was with your spouse, share what you learned about yourself from their feedback. If it was on Twitter or Facebook, you don’t need to respond to the negative criticism at all. You can just get back out there, and put another post out about what you’re up to in the world, and your vision, whatever it is.
Commit to getting out there, and doing something more. Commit to doing something. Committing to your vision, and doing something in alignment with your vision, and saying “I don’t care what you say. My commitment to myself, and to my vision, and to my purpose on this planet is greater than anything you could ever say to me.”
The only real cure for shame and criticism is to keep stepping into vulnerability. Because on the other side of it, as Brené Brown says, is all the good stuff: The incredible joy, love, and self-expression, which is what life is all about. And that’s really all we want of you – is just all that you are.
How about you? Do you find it hard to take criticism? I’d love to know if this process works for you – let us know in the comments.
Our intention is simple. To support professional women to handle the day-to-day so they can unleash the bigger impact they feel called to make in the world.
We believe real leadership is less about skill, and more about having a well of physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual strength to draw on. Every week we support thousands of grassroots leaders globally with our free articles, videos and online trainings with powerful tools and methodologies created BY women FOR women.
Become One of many™ women creating strong, meaningful connections in our community.