Listen to All Criticism

[May 6, 2018]  Wilson, a childhood friend of mine, was an exceptionally smart guy but he had a real dislike of people who would criticize him in any way.  One of the more difficult things for anyone to do is to listen patiently to criticism about themselves.

This is a tough one.  Wilson is someone without much tolerance of people who disagree with him (he sees this as implicit criticism) and those who outright criticize him (for any reason).  If you criticize him, Wilson will throw a fit and then walk away.  Yet, folks like Wilson are certainly not a rarity but are, in fact, surprisingly common.

A number of university professors I’ve known over the years will tell me that they are considering early retirement because so many of their students act almost deranged when anyone says anything that the student disagrees with.  Being a professor does require some tact but it does not mean that criticism of students should be completely avoided; yet, that is what’s happening.

I learned a long time ago that listening to criticism of me was both very difficult to do but very productive.  I also learned to listen to all criticism, regardless of the source.  Listening to this criticism was important for two reasons.

First, it gives a leader the chance to toughen up.  In the Army, we called it growing a tough skin.  It was all about being a strong leader and being impervious to anything.  Being a “man” meant being able to take verbal attacks on one’s self without it being emotionally upsetting.

Second, it gives a leader insight into how others perceive them and valuable information on what could be a problem.  True, some people are idiots and what they have to say might not be too important but taken together with others there might actually be a pattern leaders should recognize.  Even idiots are known to be right occasionally.

Of course, one should accept all criticism with grace and politely thank those who do so.  This doesn’t mean a leader should accept it all without analysis and good judgment.  This is what makes a good leader and an appreciated leader; one who is willing to learn and make improvements to themselves.

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

24 thoughts on “Listen to All Criticism

  1. Joe Omerrod

    In the medical field, I see this often. Very smart, handsome people with a good understanding of their intelligence but are completely unable to connect to people. A sad state of affairs occurs when their preconceived notions of their personal value is hit hard with others who see things differently.

  2. Martin Shiell

    Anyone not paying attention to criticism (regardless how is given) will miss another opportunity to improve their leadership skills and toughen up their personality. Avoiding things like different opinions and different ways of doing things will keep you in the dark as a leader and will ultimately prohibit you from growing.

    1. Douglas R. Satterfield Post author

      I fear that too many young folks are not getting the real education they need that makes them personally stronger and more flexible.

  3. Mr. T.J. Asper

    Many good comments today and useful for those who work with people. In my work with kids, I find that the more they are willing to accept criticism with dignity and grace, the better the kids are academically and personality-wise. I therefore encourage it within certain boundaries.

  4. Kenny Foster

    “Snowflakes” who attend college these days need a real hard dose of CRITICISM. Someone said recently that they needed sensitivity training. Well, I think they need an ass whipping like we used to give the nerds in class. They toughened up and were better for it.

  5. Max Foster

    Let’s not beat around the bush here. Giving and receiving criticism is an art form. Most people are not good at either. Part of the reason is human nature, the other part is that our schools fail terribly at trying to get the kids to be more resilient, have grit, and think for themselves.

  6. Mark Evans

    Of course, to turn this around, why should we accept criticism at all? Most of it is garbage. Some of it has no effect on us at all. I find that good introspection is often more valuable. But, I guess, to be polite we should at least listen.

  7. Albert Ayer

    Good article today on what more people, regardless of whether they are leaders or not, should pay close attention to. Sage advice, Gen Satterfield.

  8. Tracey Brockman

    Accepting criticism with grace, in my opinion, is what leaders should do.

    1. Jung-hoon Kim

      A trait of “Western” leaders. Thank you.

  9. Dale Paul Fox

    I agree that we should listen to all criticism, even if it is not given in a positive way. However, much criticism is simply unfounded and is meant to harm rather than help. In those cases, listen and then respond appropriately. Don’t let stupidity get in the way of good-intentioned criticism.

  10. Army Captain

    It is true that having a “tough skin” is better than being too sensitive to any criticism. The US Army teaches us to “tough it out”, to “be a man”, to do those things that make us better, faster, stronger in every way. If you fail to do so, then it is your fault and not anyone else’s fault.

  11. Greg Heyman

    This is an interesting take off of what my father used to tell me and parents across the world tell their kids; sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you.

  12. Max Foster

    … and if you don’t listen to all the criticism leveled at you, then you will certainly miss certain aspects of what you may be doing wrong or less efficiently.

    1. Watson B.

      Good observations Max and Joey.

    2. Janna Faulkner

      Yes, this is Brig Gen Satterfield’s point and well taken. Thanks.

    3. Yusaf from Texas

      Yes, good point Max and others. Much appreciate your insight and – occasional – humor.

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