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how to deal with uninvited criticism

Last week I spoke at East Bay Women’s Network to a group of wonderful women attended who were curious about how to promote their businesses and themselves. It had been a long time since I’d given a “speech” as I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus from speaking engagements or other public events.

My stomach was roiling that morning as I drove the hour to Alameda and before that I’d had weeks of worry, nightmares, and plenty of time to fret about the actual talk.

Afterward many women came up to thank me and tell me what they loved about my talk.

There was one man in the room. But he had no interest in complimenting me.

He wanted to criticize me so bad he could hardly wait his turn.

“I don’t know if you saw me sleeping in the back,” he started out.

“Nope. Didn’t notice,” I said, wondering why someone would bring that to my attention.

He then battered me with questions leading up to his punch line which was designed to tear me down, so he could tell me everything I’d done wrong. My stomach sank and my face fell. My first thoughts: I’m such a failure. I’m a stinky speaker. Why did I accept this gig? What was I thinking?

Then I breathed, relaxed my tummy, let it go and stayed open.

Eventually, he got to his point which was that I didn’t tell a signature story to let the group know who I was. “Oh gosh, I’ve got about 5 signature stories that I’ve told so many times I’m tired of them. I wanted to try something new.”

“Sure,” he said. “But WE haven’t heard any of them.”

He was right. I teach telling your signature story in every media appearance and when appropriate, your speaking engagements. The “why you do what you do” story.

I was out of practice. I had forgotten.

I thanked him and packed up my things. Point taken.

What to do you do when you receive uninvited criticism in person or on the Internet? 

I recommend asking yourself these 3 questions (and then doing this last thing – which is the hardest).

1. Consider the source.

Is this person a nutball? If so, dismiss their rant without another thought. Don’t let it sink into your skin for a second.

When a friend had a very revealing piece published in the New York Times the editor warned her to expect a backlash from Internet trolls. She and I discussed not even reading the hurtful replies so she could revel in the glory of achieving her dream. We batted around the idea that later when she had some distance and perspective, she might scan them for ideas to write another article based on the responses she elicited, thus using them for the positive. Distance creates perspective and allows you to see things more “objectively,” and less personally.

2. Is there something I can learn here?

Is there a kernel of truth in anything this person says? Is what they say worth examining so I can improve myself, my course, my talk etc.? If so, great. If not, move on.

3. Did what they said/wrote trigger an unresolved wound?

If you find yourself becoming hurt, angry, embarrassed, ashamed, or experiencing a strong feeling arising, take a few breaths to steady yourself and come back to center in the moment. Later, examine what touched the nerve. The event can show you where there is still work to be done to let go of past patterns that we all have or harbor. Consider tapping to resolve challenging issues.

The hardest part? Staying open. To hear the truth, or someone’s version of it, and not react. Or, if you react, don’t judge your response just let it go so you can listen and assess the situation.

The second hardest part is to ignore the hurtful words and not let them lodge in our hearts and close us down.

There is a time and place to just ignore the offending party. Not give them or their words any energy at all. If you’re up for an “advanced” practice, send them a blazing bolt of love from your heart to theirs. Shoot it straight in. We are all hurt somewhere and if you can soften even a little consider that an accomplishment.

BONUS: Use hurtful words to open an interesting discussion. I witnessed an Instagram influencer do this when she raised over 50k to help a single mom of two in her congregation get a car, apartment and get started on a new life in an unfamiliar city.

It was quite amazing to see all the support her IG community gave and to watch the pot of gold grow. Then came the naysayers who accused her of doing it for the money. None of which she kept, by the way. So she shared the hurt and gave her followers the opportunity to discuss the negative comment and to give her even more support for her good deed, which they did.

Some people make it their mission to make you feel small. Ignore them. Others are devoted to finding infinite ways share in order to inspire you to feel good. Embrace them.

To make a practice of celebrating others and bringing joy I recommend Sherry Richert Belul’s new book, Say It Now: 33 Ways to Say I LOVE YOU To the Most Important People in Your Life

If you’re in the Bay Area I invite you to join us for an in-person workshop with Sherry where she’ll lead us through how to make a Love List on May 11 in Alameda. I’d love to meet you!


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