Three Tips to Become Immune to Unfair Criticism

May 06, 2020 5 Min Read
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway. – Mother Teresa

Whenever I talk to young people about their futures, there are some who share amazing ideas about how they want to contribute to the growth of Malaysia by empowering others.

And yet, despite the imaginative brilliance of these future leaders – many of whom we saw at our annual MAD Youth Summit – a few of them talk about their reluctance to shine, not because they lack the talent, but because they’re afraid of being criticised and judged.

I recall one young person saying to me, “If I try to start my own business, I’m afraid people will say I think I’m better than them if I succeed. If I fail, I’m worried that they’ll laugh at me and I’ll never be able to succeed.”

We all have our critics, and the potential to be criticised. The kind that’s worth listening to provides a great opportunity for us to learn and grow. We can never know everything, and especially when starting out – in a new job, or building a business – there will be a lot of trial and error along the way to success. In this way, constructive criticism is helpful, because it helps us develop faster.

On the flip-side, it’s true that people will unfairly criticise us. Think of what Jesus and Greta Thunberg faced: there have always been those who are ever-ready to offer their empty criticisms from the sidelines. It’s just a part of life, and while we can’t control the words and thoughts of others, we can choose to not let people influence our drive and determination.

Don’t fall prey to another crab in the bucket

I’m reminded of some wonderful advice given by Mother Teresa, which is worth heeding whether you’re a young person just starting out, or a CEO with 30 years’ experience of dealing with the ups and downs of business:

“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

“If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway. If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

“What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.”

When someone offers a gift, it only becomes ours when we accept it. The same is true with criticism.

For young people especially, it can feel like other people’s opinions matter, and they do – to an extent. To what extent? To the point where their insights shine a light on our blind spots and inspire us to improve, people’s opinions of us have a certain value.

Otherwise, we are affected by the opinions and criticisms of others only as much as we allow. When someone offers a gift, it only becomes ours when we accept it. The same is true with criticism. But how do you deal with criticism, young people ask – it’s not that easy to let it go.
Here are some tips for anyone who finds it hard to disregard junk criticism:

1. Have empathy for your critics

Criticism affects us because we place more importance on the critic than ourselves, and when their words bite, we feel embarrassed and also resentful towards the person. Instead of giving critics power over us, we can think of them as people who are suffering from a lot of insecurity – which they often are. Their harsh words are really a reflection of them rather than a reflection of who we are, and by keeping that in mind we can let go of whatever’s being said because, ultimately, it’s not really meant for us.

2. Take Mother Teresa’s advice

Whatever we do, for some, it will never be right or good enough. Focus on doing what’s meaningful to you and what brings value to others, and keep moving forward. Whether you’re succeeding or failing, those same junk critics (i.e. those with nothing valuable to say) will share their thoughts all the same, so you might as well keep doing what you’re doing. 

3. Trust and know your own worth

You know what you’re doing and why, and you feel the determination to get to where you want to go. Junk critics only get a snapshot of who you are, and usually it’s a blurry snapshot. Therefore, they have no idea what you’re all about and where your ambitions are intending to lead. Having little sense of their own worth, they try to diminish others to feel superior. Work on trusting yourself (and perhaps a few others close to you) to guide your vision and reach the goals you set. Worrying about what others think will only take away your energy and focus away from the great legacy you have the potential to build.

As Wharton Business School professor Adam Grant puts it, “We can’t control what people say, but we have a say in how we react. Refusing to give others power over our feelings is a mark of emotional intelligence. It’s worth asking: Has this person earned the right to influence my emotions? If not, return to sender.”

Don’t forget to give them a nice fat autograph while you’re at it.

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Roshan is the Founder and “Kuli” of the Leaderonomics Group of companies. He believes that everyone can be a leader and "make a dent in the universe," in their own special ways. He is featured on TV, radio and numerous publications sharing the Science of Building Leaders and on leadership development. Follow him at


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