How to Use Criticism to Become Vastly More Influential, Popular, and Powerful
The right (and wrong) way to respond to critics
I get lots of criticism nowadays. More than ever.
It’s mostly in the comments. Sometimes emails. A few public virtual call-outs. Nothing in person yet, but I’m sure that day will come.
Some criticisms are simply disagreements (many with great points). Of course, there are the pure trolls, who probably didn’t even the article before critiquing. Some are angry, vicious responses personally attacking me and my beliefs!
See, in my first 4 years of blogging, I had hardly any criticism. Simple explanation: my content was so bad, no one even bothered to read it!
Now, I’m averaging over 200,000+ views a month on Medium alone. Each article gets about 5–10k claps on average, sometimes as high at 50,000+ claps on a single article. That’s a lot of readers! A lot more than before, anyway.
So — what do you do when dozens, hundreds, thousands of people tell you “you and your message sucks?” What do you do when they lay out exactly how you’re making the world a worse place?
Most people succumb to the pressure. They lash out (I have), they despair (I definitely have), or stew for days (or months, if you’re like me) designing a fitting counterattack.
None of these are helpful.
Instead, here’s how I learned to use criticism to become more influential, more popular, and more powerful than ever before.
The Good, Better, and Best Response to Criticism
“We all get knocked down, how quickly we get up is what separates us.”
-Darren Hardy, NYT best-selling author
There are plenty of “good” responses to criticisms, all of which I’ve seen advised:
- Ignore them
- Calmly defend yourself
- Poke fun at them
- Counter their claim with convincing evidence
These are well and good. They’re fine. You’ll always have critics, and these are good-enough responses for most people.
However, these merely adequate responses don’t really make you better or help you improve. They don’t make you more influential or powerful.
There are some “better” responses: you could try to create productive dialogue, or maybe use criticisms as a chip on your shoulder to keep going. I’ve done both, with mixed results.
But there is a better way. There is a best way to respond to criticism. Ever since I’ve started using this technique, my influence, popularity, and power as a writer have grown, gaining me more fans, more authority, and more income.
There are 3 steps:
- Humbly but objectively assess if the criticism is true and useful
- If it’s true, admit it and use it to be better next time. If it’s not, ignore it entirely (the hardest part).
- Ask yourself how your message can be more clear, definite, and concise to your audience next time.
See, in your quest to become a more powerful and popular influencer, you should be getting criticism. For every 5–10 haters you get, you’re getting 1 solid, loyal fan who loves you.
Author and entrepreneur Darius Foroux once explained what a “good entrepreneur attitude” is: “I only create exceptional products/services for a specific group of people. If it’s not for you, no sweat.”
The problem is, most people are not humble enough to hear how they can be better.
This is why most people will remain in mediocrity. This is why they don’t have many loyal fans. It’s easy to ignore feedback; it’s very hard to not only absorb an uncomfortable truth, but apply it.
As former editor of SUCCESS Magazine Darren Hardy once wrote:
“Successful people do what unsuccessful are unwilling to do.”
Frankly, your critics are usually the only ones who will tell you the blunt facts you need to hear to improve. Those who are willing to hear it will be successful.
Use your critics to become better. Use them to make your message more clear, focused, and pure.
“The truth might hurt, but what hurts more is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance.” -Marcus Aurelius
You Can’t Be an Inspiration to Some Without Being a Joke to Others
“You can’t be an important and life-changing presence for some people without also being a joke and embarrassment to others.”
-Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
If you don’t have any critics, you’re doing something wrong.
Your message probably isn’t focused enough. You’re probably still operating out of fear, not confidence. Like I did for 4 years, you’re probably watering down your most important points because you’re afraid of rejection.
I’ve learned you can’t be a life-changing inspiration to your loyal fans without being a complete joke to others.
It’s OK if you don’t have thick skin. Actually, I see myself as having fairly thin skin. Lots of comments hurt my feelings, make me sad, angry, self-conscious, and doubt myself.
The thing is, show me one negative comment about how much I suck and I’ll show you 5 comments telling me how much someone loves my content. Overwhelmingly, I’m told how my content changed a life, inspired and motivated someone, made someone a better person, and helped someone through an unbearably difficult time.
Your ego will try to protect itself and completely derail your focus. As best-selling author David Kadavy once wrote:
“Your ego attempts to protect you from discomfort by distorting your thoughts.”
In the past 6 months, I’ve gained more than 20,000 email subscribers — a number most writers would consider ridiculous.
I can tell you, I wouldn’t have this audience without hundreds and thousands of critics telling me how much they dislike me.
Don’t hide your message because some people won’t like it. As best-selling author Mark Manson wrote, “Suffering through your fears and anxieties is what allows you to build courage and perseverance.” Facing hurtful criticism is part of the game.
Emperor of Rome Marcus Aurelius once journaled, “Those who try to obstruct and thwart things — they help as much as anyone. the world needs them as well.” I need to thank my critics as much as my fans; they’ve galvanized my confidence and focused my message to appeal to my actual fans.
I can tell you from powerful personal experience: you can’t have truly loyal supporters, clients, customers, readers, and fans without critics.
Don’t avoid pain. Don’t design your plan around avoiding criticism like most people do. Don’t dilute your message a single bit.
“Avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle. The avoidance of failure is a failure.” -Mark Manson
Why Most People Self-Destruct and Let Their Critics Win
“Criticizing others wastes energy we could be using to grow.” -David Kadavy
Sadly, most people usually let their critics pull them down to their level, distracting them with petty fights while loyal fans are forgotten.
I used to do this all the time. When someone would leave some mean, snarky comment, I would waste hours imagining myself as a prosecutor in a court room, viciously detailing exactly why that person was wrong. I’d fantasize about destroying them and their argument.
Said best-selling author James Altucher:
“Every second I am manipulated and coerced and beaten down is because I’ve allowed it.”
Those are hours I’ll never get back. They were hours I should’ve been using to serve my true fans and readers, not nursing my ego and preserving my pride.
Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius once wisely wrote: “The best revenge is not to be like your enemy.”
Most people lash out when attacked. I’ve done the same. My mentality was, “You hurt me, now I want to your hurt you just as bad so you feel as crappy as I do.”
This is why most people let their critics win, losing their message in the process. This is the definition of “winning the battle, losing the war;” you might get the last word in with a nameless critic, but you’ve forgotten about the only thing worth fighting for: your fans.
Author and motivational speaker Sean Stephenson once declared:
“Successful, happy, well-emotionally balanced people don’t have time to shit on somebody else.”
If someone has chosen to waste precious moments of their life bringing someone down, the worst thing you could do is respond the same way.
The good news is, you can choose how you respond to every hurtful critique. You have the ability to use this feedback to do what most people aren’t willing to do: let it make you better.
“Adversity can harden you, or it can loosen you up and make you better — if you let it,” wrote Ryan Holiday in his best-seller, The Obstacle is the Way. He went on:
“Bad things are fuel. you don’t just want fuel, you need it. you can’t go anywhere without it.”
Most people self-destruct in the face of hurtful criticism. They let their critics win, wasting enormous energy and time trying to “get back at them.”
It never works. Instead of lashing out, calmly assess how the criticism (if it’s accurate) can make you better.
This is how I’ve gained my time and energy back, and become more influential, popular, and powerful in the process.
“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” -Ernest Hemingway
Ordinary People Hate Criticism. Extraordinary People Love It.
“Disapproval is a sign you’re doing something right.” -Darren Hardy
I used to hate criticism. Like I said, I published the most boring, vanilla-flavored garbage for 4 years because I was terrified someone wouldn’t like it.
Now, I almost revel in seeing negative feedback. It’s so helpful! Either I get candid, helpful feedback that I can use to become more influential, popular, and powerful) or I’m reminded I’m heading in the right direction!
Ordinary people hate criticism. They avoid it. “It’s human nature to quit when it hurts,” wrote thought leader Seth Godin. Like I did, most people do everything they can to avoid criticism. It’s natural, and the most obvious, common response.
But extraordinary people see criticism for what it is — powerful fuel to launch them into the next stage of their evolution. They don’t avoid it — they seek it out. Extraordinary people are the few who recognize criticism is to be prized, not avoided.
After doing thousands of performances for his budding magic/comedy/banjo show, world-famous comedian Steve Martin wrote in his autobiography:
“Being told ‘you can’t’ is a necessary ingredient in any young career.”
Rejection, criticism, and being told “you can’t” are important, necessary steps of every success story.
Most people avoid criticism and negative feedback. The most common response is lashing out, despair, or even just denial.
But as author Srinivas Rao once said, “If you want to live an exceptional and extraordinary life, you have to give up many of the things that are part of a normal one.”
You can have an ordinary response, or an extraordinary one. You decide what you want to be.
Today, I am more sure of myself than ever.
I have bad days. Sometimes, I let critics get to me. I start to believe they’re right — that I’m one of those snake oil salesmen. That’s I’m just a privileged, elitist jerk.
Those days are becoming less common. My self-assurance and self-confidence have never been higher.
I’ve learned if you’re doing anything meaningful, you’ll have harsh criticism. In the process of learning, you’ll make mistakes, many that will piss people off. The more focused and powerful your message, the more pressure you’ll experience — and the more success.
The more successful you are, the bigger the target on your back becomes.
Motivational speaker Dr. David Schwartz once said:
“All confidence is acquired, developed. No one is born with confidence. Those people you know who radiate confidence, who have conquered worry, have acquired their confidence, every bit of it.”
It takes time to build yourself up to a level where you can use criticism for what it really is — the most powerful fuel available.
You don’t need to be afraid of criticism.
Just focus on doing today’s small progress, and build yourself up a little more.
“Never quit something with great long-term potential just because you can’t deal with the stress of the moment.” -Seth Godin
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