It can be really hard to not take criticism personally. The more visible we are and the more we use our voices, the more criticism we can face and this can be really challenging.
Very early on in my corporate career I was criticised for the speed in which I worked. A number of my colleagues would tell me to slow down as I was making them look bad.
That resulted in me dealing with a lot of backstabbing and bitching and in some cases people were trying to stitch me up and gaslight me.
This made me look deep into myself and wonder what it was that I was doing wrong, what could I change? How could I modify how I was speaking and behaving so as not to upset people.
In my late teens/early 20’s I didn’t have the understanding as to what it really meant to stand out in my own power, to believe in myself. If you have a lot of people telling you the same thing, particularly when you are growing and developing as a leader and in your career, you start to believe it. I thought all of those people had my best interests at heart. I looked up to them and thought they were trying to help me.
The more I started to look into it, I realised that me working hard and fast wasn’t my issue. It was theirs. Maybe if the pace and speed in which I worked was making them look bad, then they should be upping their speed, motivation and productivity.
As a working mum I was criticised a lot by other mums in the playground as it wasn’t very often that I was the one taking my kids to school. I only saw these mums at sports days, parents evening or school events. I never missed those chances to see my sons and celebrate what they were doing, but I always felt there was this eye rolling and back handed comments about the fact I was missing out on some things with my sons.
Then you get into the workplace as a working parent and you get the criticism with them asking ‘will you be able to do that? Do you have to sort childcare?” It was never said in a way that felt helpful even during the times when my mum was ill and in and out of hospital. My priorities were always family first, so there were times I had to say no to things, re-prioritise and stand firm on what I would and wouldn’t do in order to be able to support my mum and dad.
In some of the projects I was a part of I was criticised for the energy or enthusiasm I showed. I was criticised if I spoke up too much in board meetings. One day I asked the CEO a question in a board meeting and after it finished I was pulled aside by the deputy CEO, and he said to me to never question the CEO like that in a meeting. If I’ve got something to say, speak to him privately. I was shocked. It wasn’t a challenging question after all.
I faced this most of my career.
When I set up my first business ‘The Chrysalis Crew’ I thought that this criticism would all but disappear. But I was criticised by coaches, mentors, people I met at networking events with things like being told I can’t do things my way and that’s not how I should be doing it.
As I started to get more of a presence on social media, the criticism continued.
After a recent conversation with another woman about the difference in the negative comments we get online, she gets a lot of the negative stuff on her Facebook page and a lot of mine comes directly into my DM’s via LinkedIn. LinkedIn is more of a professional platform and if they were to put their horrible comments and opinions publicly, this could result in job losses. So they private message me instead. In some cases a lot of the messages I receive are very insulting and rude, so they can cut deep. The fact that they are hidden in my DM’s means I have a bit more control over the messages. I’m able to decide whether I will respond or block. They actually motivate me and the reason I do the work that I do is because it’s so important.
We often blame ourselves when we get these horrible comments, we think maybe if we weren’t so visible then it wouldn’t happen, or even if we weren’t so confident or able then we may not have to face so much criticism. We allow it to hold ourselves back and keep us small and what I’ve come to realise is that when we receive this criticism, it’s a sign that we are onto something big. It’s a sign we are on the right track. We can’t rise, create success, voice our opinions or be the change without upsetting people along the way. As long as we don’t purposefully upset people and instead come from a place of education, kindness and change.
Alternatively if I post about something that is seen as a hot topic, I also get so many positive messages from people saying they feel seen and heard. I don’t post these things to get loads of likes and comments, I do it because it’s the right thing to do and I can make a difference.
If I stopped posting every time I got criticism, I wouldn’t be able to create the level of change for my clients. All of us will face it and we have to learn to deal with it.
Look at Brené Brown. She mentions about the very first talk she did on vulnerability and how she felt when her first TED Talk went live and all of the negative comments she received from it. Oprah Winfrey has over 50 hate websites dedicated to her. Those of us that are making waves and speaking up will make a difference, but there will always be hate from those people that don’t want to hear it and some people aren’t open minded enough for change.
We cannot allow other people to stop us in our tracks. We need to continue to rise.
Brené Brown wrote in Dare To Lead - “It’s not the critics that count” “In 2010 2 years after that event, I wrote The Gifts of Imperfection a book that introduced my research on the 10 guideposts on wholeheartedness. It had a very wide audience including corporate, faith and non-profit leaders. 2 years after that in 2012, I sharpened my focus on vulnerability and courage and wrote Daring Greatly. This was my first book that included findings of what I was learning about leadership and what I was observing in my work with organisations”
The epigraph of Daring Greatly is this quote from Theodore Roosevelt;
“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood. He strives valiantly, who errs comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcoming, but who does actually strive to do the deeds. Who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions. Who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at worst if he fails, at least fails while DARING GREATLY, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat”
Brené Brown goes on to say; “I found this quote during a particularly challenging time in my career. My TED X Houston talk on vulnerability was going viral and whilst there was a groundswell of support for the talk, many of the criticisms were cruel and personal, confirming my biggest fears about putting myself out there. This was the perfect quote to capture how I felt and my growing resolve to go full on Tom Petty and not back down”
As women we see this happen all the time. A lot of the hate and name calling I get doesn’t always come from something I’ve said or done, it’s personal attacks on how I look, on how I parent, how I speak, on my weight, or my hooded eyelids, my hair, my teeth, whether I have too much makeup on or not enough. Personal attacks!
That’s sometimes one of the hardest things for women because we aren’t being criticised for what we do, but for our personal appearance. It’s often that personal attack that makes us want to stay small and hide.
Whether you are leading in corporate, your own business, in communities, non-profits or charities, however you are leading, my plea for you is to continue to lead with the courage and confidence I know you have and live and lead from your core. So that you are empowered to create change and help empower those around you. This is how we are going to change the world and the world of work.
The critics will keep coming for us. Every time we rise we will get critics.
We don’t have to get sucked in, because when we are living and leading from our core, we KNOW we just have to keep doing what we are doing.
Let the critics come. Accept them and see them as a bit of a gift, as the more you have the more you are being seen and heard. But do not let them count, you must continue to rise.
In 2013 Kelly had a successful leadership career, yet she was burned out, exhausted, and missing out on life with family. Determined to enjoy the success that she had earned, she's learned to create a life of balance and boundaries that is also highly successful.
Today at kellyswingler.com, Kelly helps women leaders all over the world to prevent and recover from burnout without giving up their career or jeopardising their wellbeing.