You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.
You can’t please everyone
Recently, someone shared a video of digital media entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk discussing how he deals with critics with the message, “This sounds like how you engage people – maybe you can teach us how to deal with trolls!”
There’s a quote (often attributed to Winston Churchill) that goes, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” It implies that, whatever you’re doing, you’re bound to come up against criticism whenever you stand up for something and put yourself out there.
The only statue that pigeons fear.
I’ve made this point before: if Jesus or Buddha had their share of critics, none of us are going to be exempt from what’s a normal part of life. Once you accept that there will always be people who judge you – unfairly or otherwise – you can begin to let go of other people’s opinions, especially when they belong to those who base their judgements on snapshots of how they perceive you.
I occasionally get asked why I remain so optimistic, even in the face of adversity or challenges. For me, it’s simple. I have two ways I can deal with a tough situation: I can dwell on the difficulty and let it drag me down; or, I can look at it as an opportunity to learn or develop something from. In my experience, persevering through difficult challenges make the eventual successes all the sweeter. As another quote attributed to Churchill puts it, “If you are going through hell, keep going!”
With time, you’ll learn to shrug it off
When it comes to critics, I have my fair share just like anyone who puts themselves out there, but I don’t give it a second thought. Do you notice that people who are in a good place rarely make personal judgements? When critics come after you personally, they’re not in a good place themselves. So, they deserve understanding and compassion. That might sound a tad flowery, so let me explain a bit further.
Let’s say someone criticises you, whether it’s online or elsewhere. You can think something like “How could they say that? Who do they think they are? I’m going to respond to/block them – that’ll show them!” From there, you feel resentful, bitter, angry, frustrated – because of what? Some person whom you otherwise wouldn’t think about making a comment about how they perceive you?
If they feel the need to express their negativity, that’s fine, but you don’t have to take that negativity unto yourself. If you do, you can dwell on that one incident for days or even weeks after
if Jesus or Buddha had their share of critics, none of us is going to be exempt from what’s a normal part of life.
Instead of wasting my time and happiness on the opinion of someone I don’t know very well, my go-to thought is always: “Wow, it must be tough to be in a place where you need to lash out at someone to feel better about yourself. I’m grateful I’m not like that. I hope the person sorts through their stuff and feels better soon.” And then I get on with my day.
Being the bigger person
Having compassion and understanding frees you from the narrow-minded negativity that another person tries to use to draw you into their space. Of course, if someone’s critical of a business idea or points out flaws in my thinking, I’m always open to listening to constructive criticism. It’s not that I shut myself off to all criticism, just the stuff that’s unnecessary and offers no value.
Re-framing the unnecessary criticism allows you to be the bigger person in every situation. If I’m feeling good about myself; if I’m exercising and sleeping well; if I’m enjoying what I do; and if I’m able to stay grateful for the people who enrich my life, there’s no place for me to be thinking about trying to bring someone down or criticise who they are.
On the other hand, if a person has low self-worth, unhealthy lifestyle habits, and lacks gratitude in their life, then it’s going to give rise to anger, bitterness and resentment – and that negativity has to be directed somewhere. Some direct it toward themselves, while others find it too painful, and so they project onto others. That’s not something I’d get angry about in return; I feel sympathy for that person, because they’re struggling with a great deal of pain that comes from a deep insecurity.
Fight fire with kindness
Especially in leadership, kindness and compassion are crucial when you’re running a team or business, but it’s not something you can switch on and off. It has to be cultivated as part of who you are, and the foundation for kindness and compassion is the ability to take the perspective of others. If you can’t do that as a leader, it’s very difficult to sustain engagement and commitment over time.
Being the bigger person isn’t about being the best, or the ‘most emotionally intelligent’ – it’s about stepping back and refusing to fuel the excessive negativity. It’s about being open to the bigger perspective, which is that when a person attacks you on a personal level, they’re not in a good place and they need kindness, not a return volley of whatever they send your way.
Being the bigger person isn’t about being the best, or the ‘most emotionally intelligent’ – it’s about stepping back and refusing to fuel the excessive negativity.
You can practise kindness and compassion by replying to criticism and saying, “I’m sorry you feel that way, but what you’re saying isn’t accurate. You’re making a judgement based on how you’re perceiving how you think I am, and you’ve got the wrong impression. I understand how that can come about and I wish you all the best.”
If the person comes back with a positive response, that’s great – hopefully a more meaningful dialogue can open up over time. If they double-down on their criticism, it’s best to ignore it. Your time is the most precious commodity you have and it should be spent on whatever adds value and enriches your life. And if we want to live in a society that is built on kindness, understanding, acceptance and compassion, then we have to be a constant example of that.
What happens when you walk away as the bigger person?
On a personal level, you’ll feel lighter, attuned to the things that matter, and have a growing sense of your own value. It’ll give you the confidence to trust in your own style and direction, as well as the ability to drown out the noise of unhelpful views and opinions. Professionally, you’ll set a great example for others to follow and you’ll send a clear message to those who might be unsure of how to deal with unhelpful critics.
Don’t feed the trolls, folks!
People who project pain are in pain, and you become the bigger person by seeing that and acting accordingly either by trying to address the issue; or, when that fails, wishing them all the best anyway and getting on with your life without adding fuel to the negativity they bring to the table.