Dealing with Criticism

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2015 Kristy Headshot formal
By Kristy Grant-Hart
KristyGH@SparkCompliance.com

Consider criticism: is it feedback necessary for improvement or the quickest way to shut down self-esteem?

Last Friday night my email pinged on my phone. I opened it to see the most dreaded note of the year – the evaluation for my keynote at the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics was ready to view. I knew that I was in good company, as nearly 100 speakers who also made presentations at the conference were simultaneously receiving notice that their evaluations were ready to read. I opened the message attachment. Within the PDF was feedback, praise, criticism, and the occasional inevitable smack-down from people who did not enjoy what I shared.

Focusing on the Negative

What is it about human nature that loves to focus on the negative? I had 110 positive comments (my husband counted) and 22 negative ones. I quickly read through the positive comments, not stopping to internalize or appreciate them. I found the negatives, many of which stung. One of the themes of my keynote was the message that compliance and ethics officers are part of a movement changing the world. One person wrote, “For me it was contrived and felt fake. I’m a realist and know in my 16 years in ethics and compliance that we can make a difference, but we are not changing the world.” A couple of others accused me of being egotistical, shouting, and being self-promotional. Ouch.

Compliance officers are regularly asked to do the impossible in trying to please everyone. How can we possibly find an online training course that will satisfy the desires of an employee population in 20 countries, or one with learners ranging in age from 19 to 69? One of my clients put out an innovative course based on gamification where people get points for getting questions right and can compete against their co-workers. Nearly everyone loved it, but my friend is still fixated on the three negative emails from people who hated it and felt it was “too simplistic” and “sent the wrong message about the importance of ethics and compliance.”

Should We Ignore It?

Newscaster Megyn Kelly was quoted in Oprah magazine this month saying, “Reading negative remarks about yourself online is like breathing bus exhaust. With each one you read, you let your detractors steal your mojo. Life’s too short for that.” Whether in anonymous internet forums or on evaluation forms, people feel great freedom to criticize when they don’t have to look the person in the face to deliver their appraisal. Some people get a sense of power in tearing others down when they can hide behind their anonymity or the computer screen.

Can It Be Useful?

It’s also useful to remember that criticism can be constructive and make you better. Jack Canfield, the author of The Success Principles, encourages readers actively to solicit feedback. When I read that I recoiled – why would I ever want to actively seek out criticism?
Canfield makes the case compellingly that we can never grow as people or in our profession unless we are alerted to the areas in which we can improve. He states that most people will be tentative in giving real feedback at first, expecting a defensive response to their honesty. However, if you can overcome the natural instinct to defend yourself, and instead internalize the pieces of constructive criticism that are useful, people will begin to be confident in giving you feedback, which will help you to improve. When I decided to actively seek out feedback and stop taking it personally, I allowed the responses to be a pathway to improvement and I grew in my abilities.

Internalizing the Positive

While evaluating negative criticism can be useful, never forget to spend time enjoying the positive feedback you receive. No one is universally liked, and no one approach will work for all people, so it’s only natural that some people will like the way you communicate or the training that you give, and other people will not. By internalizing the positive statements that people make you can continue to do the things that are working. This will make you more effective.

Criticism can help you to build up your skills or tear down your self-esteem – the choice of what to internalize and how to use it is up to you.

Kristy Grant-Hart the author of the book “How to be a Wildly Effective Compliance Officer.”  She is CEO of Spark Compliance Consulting and is an adjunct professor at Widener University, teaching Global Compliance and Ethics.  She can be found at www.ComplianceKristy.com, @KristyGrantHart and emailed at KristyGH@SparkCompliance.com.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Your experience reminds me of a dear friend who spoke at a recent HCCA CI. She may be one of the most articulate and intelligent people I have ever met. I find her presentation style and the way she carries herself to be exemplary. Her command of her content was obvious throughout her session and she fielded all questions expertly.

    When she received her feedback, to borrow one of your words…it “stung”.

    In fact, some of the feedback was such that I wondered if the people who were providing feedback sat in the same room that I did when she presented. Like you…she focused on the few negative comments she received and seemed to skim over the many dozens of comments that were very consistent to my own feedback that she did an excellent job.

    My takeaway as it relates to your posting…is that your experience, like hers reminds us of a very simple fact. How we decide to let the feedback of others affect us is our choice…a choice that we totally own.

    • Yes, I agree with you to a point. It IS our responsibility to accept feedback as constructive however it is important to at least try to understand the agenda of the person giving the feedback. I find that it is easier for leaders and/or clients to inflict blame than to assume responsibility. Mostly because they may not know how to handle it. This fear of responsibility sometimes comes from inability to have the answer and they feel guilty or threatened – especially if they do not have the resources needed to resolve the issue – whether it is human or financial restraints.
      What is most disturbing is when your supervisor/director acts on the complaints with an intent of blame so they do not have to be responsible. It is highly offensive and disrespectful and displays an inadequacy on their part. The customer isn’t always right. A leader must understand the customer’s agenda and intent. If it is because they want to defer responsibility, they will blame another. I feel that it is a leader’s obligation to their employee to determine the intent of the complaint before acting as judge and jury to the point of negatively affecting those who serve to do the right thing.

  2. And there lies the rub….easier…scratch that…much, much easier said than done…especially if the leader has some skin in the game and might have to shoulder some of the blame.

    There are enough compliance professionals who are out of work because they were abandoned by their leaders not taking the time to understand the whole picture but rather on the few pixels that they first saw.

    • Thank you Frank and Rebecca – This was exactly my experience.

      One of Rebecca’s and one of Frank’s comments really hit home, and is so true. Rebecca: “This fear of responsibility sometimes comes from inability to have the answer and they feel guilty or threatened – especially if they do not have the resources needed to resolve the issue – whether it is human or financial restraints.”

      Frank: “There are enough compliance professionals who are out of work because they were abandoned by their leaders not taking the time to understand the whole picture but rather on the few pixels that they first saw.”

      Great learning experience for me is how to understand who is responsible. In other words, who is your audience? Once you identify who’s accountable and the circumstances, it soothes the sting and protects your self esteem.

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