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Criticism: Let’s React Properly

When we talk about fear of public speaking, it is important to understand that it’s not a fear of speaking in front of an audience on its own but a fear of criticism. The very same “What will people say”, “What if they don’t like it” and a hundred more similar ideas and thoughts, appearing in our mind. When I ask clients what they think they lack, almost a half of them say that they are afraid of criticism.

The bad news is that criticism is essential if you want to improve your skills or learn something new. There is one important point to be mentioned – how criticism is expressed. Sometimes people try to do the deed perfectly, in hope that they won’t be criticized. This is a typical trap of consciousness, because the better you do something, the more criticism you hear. Sad but true.

I have a lot of stories in my piggy bank, and one of them happened to me personally. A couple of years ago I was performing with artists from La Scala. To make it clear, it is the highest level for opera singers. Despite the fact that I tried my best at the rehearsals, criticism literally poured out on me. In the end I could not stand it anymore and asked why they criticized me so much. The answer was a true shock back then -  "Because you are the only one who can handle the part." Since then, I have learned to be more relaxed about criticism, dividing it into constructive and destructive.

We grow and learn to perceive criticism as an attempt to push our boundaries. The most important thing here is to clearly understand who is criticizing you and not to take everything personally. There are people who criticize only what they personally do not like or what they lack themselves. And you, your personality, have absolutely nothing to do with it. Another thing is when you ask a professional for advice. In this case, you need to heed.

If you want to get maximum profit from criticism, it is better to perceive it from the position of a student, namely, to highlight what a person lacks and try to understand his vision of the case. Excuses, attempts to prove the opposite are absolutely useless here. This dialogue is doomed to become a bitter skirmish. The point is that your opponent is also afraid of criticism and is not ready to accept it.

David Barnes, in his book “Mood Therapy: How to Respond to Criticism”, discusses the deep roots of criticism and how to respond to it. The author even described a clear plan that is designed to disarm the opponent.

1. Benefit above all. Criticism has two mutually exclusive goals - to help or to destroy. Try to ask the critic some questions in a calm and emotionless voice to determine which of the goals he really pursues. If you feel that he simply pours buckets of criticism on you, try to find out what exactly your opponent does not like and what he would advise you to improve the situation. It is very important to control not only what you say, but also how you do it.

2. Agree. And do as you see it. This point may seem absurd. Indeed, it is difficult to agree with a person who unfairly criticizes you or finds fault wherever possible. But your opponent is just waiting for you to start arguing and making excuses. When instead you agree and listen politely to his opinion, further attacks tend to stop. Done, the opponent remains unarmed, because you immediately showed that you are not going to fight with him, which means that there is simply no point in fighting.

3. Arguments are the best policy. Compromise is the best solution. Try to build a dialogue so that the person is forced to agree with you. A calm and confident tone is a must for success. In the case of argumentation, proceed as follows. First, make the weak argument, then the strongest, and then just an average one. According to statistics, people usually pay more attention to the second argument in a raw, although remember the last one. 

Another unobvious, but important point. Always have support. These are all those people whose opinion you listen to and whom you trust, those who will try to help and not just increase their self-esteem at your expense. In addition, the very feeling that there are people behind you who appreciate what you do helps to be more confident.

The main thing to remember is a simple pattern: critics and haters of all sorts come in if you do something special. It is easy to let them control your life and mood, undermining your self-confidence. But it is much better to learn how to properly respond to such streams of criticism. Ultimately, the better you do something, the more criticism you get.

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Ekaterina Kardakova

Hello everyone! My name is Ekaterina Kardakova. I am an opera singer, vocal and presentation coach. Learn more about me and my work.

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