How to Be Open to Criticism
For this series, we’ve reached into the vault to share a few pieces that are still relevant today.
For those who don’t follow the inner workings of the opera world on a day-to-day basis, you might have missed this story from 2012, in which Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, declared that Opera News (which is affiliated with the Met) would no longer be allowed to publish reviews of shows at the Met. This is apparently in response to some reviews that were, in Gelb’s opinion, less than kind about Met productions. After a day of online outrage, Gelb reversed himself and re-allowed reviews of the Met in the publication.
What’s most puzzling about this is how Mr. Gelb thought this was going to play out or what he originally saw as the upside of this decision. Obviously, the reversal was a good idea, but it only partially undid the unforced error of the decision to ban reviews in the first place.
This is an obvious, but still needed, statement: We are all subject to the evaluation of others, and this has always been true. In the past, critics published things in papers and magazines, and most of what everybody else thought was personal or even something they kept to themselves.
But despite all that, it still happened. Those evaluations were still being made and having an impact on how people interacted with us or our products, shows, services or whatever.
Now those opinions come to the light for others to see in a number of ways that weren’t there before because of blogs, posts on Facebook or Twitter, photo sharing or a dozen other ways people can share their long and well-thought-out opinions or their short, not so well-thought-out opinions on a range of things. When it comes to live entertainment, user reviews (which has been an important feature on Goldstar for years) are one of those ways, and like critics doing reviews, they are not always positive (although most of them are). This is hard for some people to accept, and very few people actually enjoy hearing bad things about themselves or their work. It doesn’t feel good, but it can be very valuable.
So how do you become more open to this kind of criticism?
Whenever you hear something negative about yourself, your work, your organization or whatever, stop and consider the possibility that the criticism is correct.
Note that I didn’t say “assume it’s correct.” I said consider the possibility that it’s correct. This pause helps take the emotion out of it a little bit and gives you a chance to evaluate what’s said on its merits and make a decision about what, if anything, you want to do about the input.
You might decide that the negative input is valid, in which case you might want to think about how to change for the better. Or you might decide that it’s valid, but not important enough to worry about, in which case, you’re done. Or you might decide that the input is either inaccurate or just plain wrong, in which case, you can either move on from it or think about how you might unintentionally be creating an impression that’s not the whole or best story.
But the point is that by the time you’ve thought through your options, you’re no longer reacting with emotion and umbrage to someone having the unmitigated gall to say something less than glowing about you; you’re acting like a responsible adult and giving a decent respect to the opinion of others and possibly even learning from it.
We live in a world of hair-trigger responses and flame wars, fast “news” cycles and an environment where snark and snipe are the most physical activity some people get, but that doesn’t have to be you. You don’t have to play the game. Use the information, let it fly free, consider the possibility that it’s correct or at least useful, and then do what you think is right.
We’re all wrong about something, at every moment of our lives. If we got all the criticism we deserved for every wrong or bad or incomplete thing we did, it would take up our whole day. So compared to that, a little criticism now and then, especially once we learn to use it well, doesn’t seem so bad.
(On the flip side, if you’re a person who loves to zing people, or companies or productions with your words and yet you’re sensitive to it when it’s directed at you, you really need to grow up.)