Craving Criticism

Apr 17, 2019


The very words tends to make our skin crawl.

Whether at work or in your home, criticism from peers, direct reports, and even your spouse and children can be shocking. Human nature is to automatically go on the defense.

"Sticks and stone can break my bones, but words can never hurt me." Who made up that crap? Wounds heal. But words? We give them life to last through the eternities. And the best part is, we do it without thinking twice.

TRUTH: Not all criticism is constructively given. But can we make all criticism constructively received?

Consider how that might change the atmosphere and the overall culture in the places we lead? How does our mindset need to change in order to make that happen?

I don't know about you, but being praised feels pretty good. Having people speak into and validate your hard work and your efforts can be incredibly rewarding. Consider a scenario where you are constantly standing under a shower of perpetual praise. What motivates you to step forward? The answer? Nothing. If I'm standing under a shower of perpetual praise, it feels pretty good. I don't want to leave that shower - I want to stay exactly where I am.

Perpetual praise can be so dangerous because it pacifies us into complacency with where we are currently. There's no forward movement or even desire to have forward movement.

When we have the opportunity to be criticized, we have the opportunity to progress, as long as we don't allow our own ego to get in the way.

When somebody says something critical of us it's natural to get upset and defensive. But what would happen if we were to invite more information so we could receive clarity on their feedback? Adam Grant calls this proving mode versus improving mode, stating that the best way to prove yourself is to show that you're willing to improve yourself.

Oftentimes as leaders, we have the misguided notion that in order to lead well, we need to have all the answers. Thankfully, that's not true!

Studies show that leaders gain more trust when:

  1. They are willing to admit when they don't have the answers.
  2. They offer up a problem but not a solution.
  3. They empower team members to rise up and collaboratively take ownership in seeking out a resolution.

BONUS! When we establish this within our organizations and within our homes, we become more approachable. #hallelujah

I have made the mistake of trying to run the one woman show where everybody only steps right If Erin says to step right and everyone only steps forward if Erin says to step forward. But what happens is Erin gets perfectly burnt out! This isn't a high performing collaborative team but rather a bunch of individual employees. How far can an organization go when everyone is waiting to have their day dictated to them before making any movements?

The difference between a boss and a leader is that a leader empowers their team to become leaders as well, and the more leaders we have working towards a common goal, the quicker we can get to achieving that goal.

Successful entrepreneurs:

  • Are constant learners.
  • Seek for ways to improve.
  • Appreciate and even crave the criticism that has the potential to propel them to the next level.

This journey of constant self-improvement and progress is not one we can go alone. 

Appreciating criticism from those around us is the ultimate growth mindset.

A mindset like this takes as many perspectives and as many "eyes" as possible to be able to achieve. When we are willing to take on the perspectives of those around us, our blind spots are decreased as our perception is increased.

EXAMPLE: We recently had a management meeting at Bailey's Blossoms where we were discussing our company's core values. One of the things that was stated was that we are an intensely customer centric company. I agreed then asked, "Yes, but aren't we also an employee centric company?" The answer stunned me.


I swallowed hard and listened. "While we care deeply for our employees, we have definitely set a precedence that our customer is king and that our employees will always come secondary to our customer. The CUSTOMER is always right."

Then the wheels started to spin. I love that we're a customer centric company, but there was something about that that just didn't feel right. I had to fight the urge to get defensive and started to ask questions so that I could understand clearly the perspective and the feedback that they were giving me. And you know what? They were right. I had to decide if I was okay with that reality. I wasn't. I want us to be people centric regardless of customer or employee. I want to ensure my team knows that they are valued to the same extent that my customers are.

These conversations are rarely, if ever easy, but I want them to happen because I want to see my blind spots. I want to become a better driver. There are dangers on the road around me and if I don't have people in my car who are willing to point them out, we're all in danger of potential catastrophe.

TOUGH QUESTIONS: If all the passengers in your car are in constant agreement with you, is it truly because you're always right or is it possibly because you haven't yet fostered a safe space in which people can openly disagree with you?

This is true for our relationships with family and friends, colleagues, and even with our children. Our natural reaction is to discredit the source, the person who said the hurtful thing, the person who hurt our ego or bruised our feelings. If we can make them seem less credible, then we have a leg to stand on to say that we don't need to listen to their feedback, criticism or advice. But if we have the wherewithal to remove the emotion in order to decipher fact from fiction, that's when we can see clearly our growth opportunities.

We can't control how the information is given. Not all criticism is going to be given in a constructive way, but we can control how we choose to receive it.

When we negatively react to criticism, we give our power and energy away. When we step outside our fluctuating emotions, we see clearly and with the ability to enact change and progress.

  • What am I doing that's working that I can improve upon?
  • What am I doing that's not working but I can change?


  1. Do I have a coasting mindset or a growth mindset?
  2. Am I doing what’s easy or am I anxiously seeking for untapped potential in myself and in my company?

As entrepreneurs, our businesses are often a reflection of us. If we are growing personally, our companies are probably growing as well. If we are coasting, our companies are likely coasting as well. 

To be a trailblazer I rely on the people around me who are going to challenge me to be better than what I am today. They're going to challenge me to be more than I am in this very moment. To think bigger. To dream bigger. To do bigger and better things than I could ever do if I was left alone.

Those who struggle are those unwilling to learn. If you are only willing to listen and to consume information that validates what you already know and where you're already at, progress will not happen. Innovation will not happen.

If you want something more than what you have right now, you need to try something different.

To get a different outcome we must be willing to try a new recipe and what better way to be able to test and learn than to listen to the people around us who see the blind spots that we're prone to have. And regardless of the way that they deliver that message, we have the ability to receive it in a productive and positive manner that will benefit us and propel us forward.

Teach when you're called upon to teach, but never stop seeking out opportunities to a student.

Here are 8 tried and true steps to help us not only accept criticism but begin to truly crave:

  1. LISTEN. This is often the hardest step because our natural inclination is to get up and to defend ourselves. Stop and just listen.
  2. REGROUP. If you feel like you've gotten a sucker punch to the stomach or a slap in the face, take a moment and choose not to respond. Breathe deeply. Let it sink in and settle your heart rate.
  3. SEEK TO UNDERSTAND. Ask questions. Ask questions that will help you see from their perspective.
  4. WRITE IT DOWN. We have such-short term memories and if you are looking and truly committed to improving upon something, you need to write it down so that you can look back in those moments where you think you haven't gotten very far and you can look back and realize just how far you've come after all.
  5. IDENTIFY TRUTH. Once you have it written down go through and decipher fact from fiction. Look at the patterns in your life. Be aware of the behaviors and the tendencies that you have that might speak truth into the feedback that you have received.
  6. PRIORITIZE THE OPPORTUNITY. There will always be more opportunities than there is time to tackle them. Our ability to prioritize them is vital in order for us to effectively manage our time in the most productive and important way.
  7. ACT. In order to enact change, we have to move. We have to move on our new knowledge. With great knowledge comes great responsibility and as you identify opportunities for change, enact change by consistent small and steady steps that will ultimately get you to your end goal.
  8. RECORD & REPEAT. Take notes on your progress. Write down what's working and what's not working. Take a step back and acknowledge your progress. See how far you've come and celebrate the little victories along the way.

But what if your culture does not yet allow for people to be so bold? How can you create a culture shift that enables people to feel both safe and comfortable? When my husband and I were newlyweds, we used to do what we call the "companionship inventory", where we would set aside time to provide one another with constructive feedback, positive and negative, and it would allow us to have a perfectly open communication with nothing off the table to discuss. As time went on, we establish a deeper sense of trust with one another, understanding that we could talk about anything regardless of how hard or uncomfortable it made us, with the ultimate goal of strengthening our relationship through honest and open communication.

Similarly, we can do this with our team members and colleagues. When we foster an environment to give and take honest and open communication, holding nothing back and holding nothing over one another's heads coming out of it, we establish a deep sense of trust and understanding that even harsh topics are shared with the intent to help one another on our success journeys.

In order to succeed, we must be willing to surround ourselves with a network of challengers. Challengers who care enough to hold us accountable and challengers who see our potential and will provide feedback when they see us falling short of it.

Criticism and choosing to receive it well to the point of craving, isn't about choosing negativity but choosing perspective. The clearer we see ourselves and our situations, the clearer we will view the opportunities in front of us.

As you provide criticism from a genuine place of caring and model what that looks like, those around you will feel empowered to do the same for you. And when that is your culture and your deeply rooted desire, growth will always follow.


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