According to conventional wisdom, constructive criticism is always a good thing. We should listen when people tell us how we can perform better at work and take advantage of the outside perspective — that sort of thing. But what if that isn’t always correct?
As Minda Zetlin of Inc. writes in a Daily Muse post titled “6 Good Reasons You Should Stop Listening to Criticism,” it’s not always wise to put stock in what other people write, say, or even tweet about you. As a writer whose work is published online, Zetlin has received her fair share of criticism over the years, and it often leaves her feeling deflated and unsure of herself. To some extent, she’s learned to tune it out.
The first reason Zetlin proposes blocking out criticism: Humans are “hard-wired to over-value the negative.” From an evolutionary standpoint, this is a good thing. Back in the day, people needed to worry more about man-eating beasts than pretty butterflies, and so they did. But nowadays, one individual’s mean comments about your writing or work presentation are likely stick with you longer than the 15 positive ones you also received.
“Next time you find you’re obsessing because someone said something critical, remember it’s not you, it’s your inner caveman doing the thinking,” Zetlin writes.
The next one is obvious: “It might make you unhappy, and that’s not good.” There’s evidence that unhappiness is bad for the brain and for work performance, and if you listen to too much criticism, your work really will suffer. And don’t forget the next one on Zetlin’s list: “Your critic may have questionable motives.” It would be nice if everyone telling us to do X, Y, and Z at work only had our best interests in mind, but this isn’t the case. We’re not cavemen anymore, but some colleagues live in survival mode, looking out for themselves and using whatever tools they can to sabotage others.
That carries over to No. 4: “It might not be coming from someone you respect.” By all means, Zetlin writes, pay attention to “thoughtful, objective criticism” you get from people “whose judgment you respect.” If it comes from the office complainer, though, or some anonymous online commenter, move on.
If you don’t, “It may stop forward momentum” (No. 5), which means projects that should be undertaken will die premature deaths, and (No. 6) “You might start believing it.” As Zetlin writes, paraphrasing some popular TED Talks, watching bad news all the time makes us think bad news is normal, while telling ourselves we’re good people deserving of love helps us actually find love. “What we believe about ourselves is an incredibly powerful thing.” Zetlin writes. Be careful who you give that power to.