When Richard Branson founded Virgin Atlantic in 1984, each of his competitors said he’d surely fail. Instead of backing down, Branson found creative ways to overcome each obstacle. Today, those critics are out of business and Branson is lauded as a visionary.
Many of the world's most successful business leaders were criticized -- even laughed at --when they first introduced their ideas. Instead of believing the naysayers, they used that criticism as motivation to succeed.
The best way to let criticism drive you is to be open to hearing it in the first place. Successful leaders know how to identify valid criticism and adapt accordingly. They use it to help them succeed.
When your ideas come under fire, here are four steps to help you and your company benefit:
1. Detach yourself emotionally. When you’re passionate about an idea or you have a lot at stake, criticism causes a defensive gut reaction. "It’s so easy to just write it off," says Thomas Plante, a Silicon Valley psychologist and professor at Santa Clara University. "But that’s not going to be productive at the end of the day."
To take in criticism without letting it overwhelm you, look at the feedback as an outsider would. Rather than seeing it as a personal attack, see it as a piece of information that could help you strengthen your business.
2. Filter out unproductive feedback. Some feedback simply isn’t worth your time. Look at the critic’s motivation. Are they trying to weed out competition? Are they jealous? Are they defending outdated ideas?
"We have to remind ourselves that nobody has magic answers, really," Plante says. Ultimately, you know what’s best for your company. Trust your gut and stay focused on doing great work. Success is the best way to prove your critics wrong.
3. Consult with people you trust. For criticism that does come from a productive or genuine place (even if it seems harsh), give it some consideration. Evaluate it like any other business problem and talk it through with trusted colleagues in other companies or industries.
"Consult with people who don’t always agree with you," Plante says. "You want to get advice from neutral parties." Without a personal investment in the company, they can offer diverse perspectives and help you decide how to respond.
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4. See criticism as an opportunity to improve. If you decide the critique has merit, find creative ways to solve the problem. Use the criticism as a springboard to help you adapt and grow as a company. If you go in with an open mind, your solution may lead to an unexpected innovation. "The most tenacious people come back with a new idea or a slightly different idea," Plante says.
The better you know yourself, the easier this will be. “If you know who you are, you’re centered, so you’re more likely to listen to criticism," Plante says. "You can take criticism and compliments thoughtfully, sometimes with a grain of salt."
Nadia Goodman is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY. She is a former editor at YouBeauty.com, where she wrote about the psychology of health and beauty. She earned a B.A. in English from Northwestern University and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University. Visit her website, nadiagoodman.com.