Criticisms can either be instrumental in character building or absolutely soul-crushing. It is a double-edged sword that requires careful handling. We invest hours of time and energy into bringing our thoughts, ideas and creations to life – be it a book, startup, or a PhD thesis – and display it for the world to see, leaving us vulnerable to a barrage of criticism that may come our way. It can be nerve-racking, demotivating, and demoralising.
Though painful, it is counterproductive to insulate ourselves from criticisms. Our proximity to our project and our pride in it sometimes stop us from acknowledging and exploring alternate perspectives that could make it better. We may think our product is beyond reproach – an extremely unhelpful thought. Criticism provides that much needed objective feedback that can take our products to greater heights.
Researchers and Professors point out that when someone criticises our work, it provides us with a learning opportunity, enabling us to accept other ways to make the product or service more efficient. This line of thinking allows us to envision criticism as a positive force. Our handling of criticism while rethinking our projects to reflect other’s viewpoints helps us become well-rounded beings. It enables us to get rid of the myopic ‘my way or the highway’ attitude, allowing room for growth.
However, it is imperative to understand the difference between constructive and destructive criticism. Therein lies the conundrum; how to separate the objective, encouraging criticism from the toxic ones? How to ensure the feedback doesn’t hurt our confidence? Research shows that the brain handles negative and positive information in different hemispheres, with negative emotions requiring more thinking and the information more processing. Therefore, unconstructive criticism can take up space in our mind, destroying our motivation and courage and stopping us from doing better.
In the latest edition of Conversations with Rakesh, SoME Founder Rakesh Godhwani encourages us to stay open to criticism but identify the useful ones from the unhelpful. Not all criticism, he says, helps in bettering us. Some could stem from malice, insecurity, ignorance or arrogance, use rude words, or simply be toxic. Instead, look for objective feedback, which aims to encourage and comes from someone knowledgeable about your field and the problems your product is trying to solve.
Watch Rakesh’s video on handling criticism here:
The following is the transcription of the video.
Someone asked me recently, “Sir, I am a young entrepreneur, and I worked very hard on my product. Recently at a college competition, I pitched my idea to a group of investors that included academicians and entrepreneurs. Some of them critiqued my idea quite negatively, and I felt terrible. How do I handle feedback and criticisms better?”
It is pretty heartbreaking to receive negative feedback for a venture you worked very hard on, a book, product, or even a movie. However, being criticised is quite normal. I will provide you with a few concepts – philosophical and practical – so you can accept feedback in a much better way.
There’s a beautiful ‘Doha’ of Kabir – wonderful philosophical points that refer to criticism and its role in our lives.
It goes like this, “Nindak niyare rakhiye aangan kuti chhawaye;
Bin sabun pani bina nirmal karat subhaye.” Roughly translated, it means, keep your critics close at all times, and you won’t feel the need for water or soap to clean yourself. Their words will cleanse you.
Though beautiful, it would be foolhardy to assume all criticism comes from a good place and should be embraced. Nowadays, many people around us who choose to criticise our work can be very toxic, their words damaging our self-esteem and confidence. You have to handle them with the right attitude. Here are some practical suggestions for you to follow when facing criticism.
- Observe who is giving the feedback
If the person criticising is very knowledgeable, understands the product or sector, and says something is wrong with your product, accept the feedback objectively and learn from it. People like them want others to succeed. Perhaps the choice of words employed by the person may not be great, but there’s nothing you can do about it. Pick the feedback that will help improve you, your product or venture.
- Ignore the haters and unhelpful comments
If you encounter a critic who throws around unhelpful feedback like, ‘I didn’t like your work’, ‘there’s nothing great about your product’, press the ignore button. Their feedback rarely precedes constructive comments that will better your product. They are toxic people, and their comments are not even criticisms but opinions they like brandishing about.
Don’t pay much attention to these unhelpful comments. They will only bring you down, breaking your confidence and self-esteem. In today’s highly connected world, you will encounter many such people, especially on social media. They are called trolls. You have to learn to deal with them, and it will only affect you if you let the criticism get better of you.
- Be careful whom you ask for feedback from
Let me share a beautiful and relevant story with you. A man had a gorgeous rock in his possession that was passed down in his family for generations. He thought it to be priceless. One day he took the rock to a person who didn’t know anything about jewels and asked him its value. The person said maybe a few couple thousands. Shocked and despondent, the man then went to a famous jeweller and asked him the value of the rock. The jeweller immediate said the rock was a precious and rare find.
Not everyone can give you the criticism that will help you grow. Your project need not be understood by everyone. Therefore, it is critical to choose someone who understands your work, your value and ask them for feedback.
Improve your resilience, and remember to take comments in the right spirit only to an extent. If the comments seem personal, vindictive and harsh, block them.
Find the right person to take your diamond to; only then will it become more polished. Seek out the right people to receive feedback from, and block the haters out