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Dealing with criticism: 5 tools to develop a thick skin

Dealing with criticism: 5 tools to develop a thick skin | Cultural Trendz |

“When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.” ~Miguel Ruiz

Have you ever opened a spring-loaded email? You know, the kind with a nasty barb inside that hits you like a punch in the gut?

My business partner and I had recently launched our new podcast, and he had forwarded me an email he’d received from a viewer.

“Just watched Episode One,” the writer said. “GREAT idea! But WAY too much talking. Want specifics, not Melissa’s self-indulgent blathering on about the creative process…”

Ouch. My vision blurred at this point, and the rest of the missive was lost on me. A hot flush prickled my skin from head to toe.

I recognized this feeling: it was something I’d been doing my best to avoid since early childhood. For much of my life, fear of criticism had kept me small and timid, hiding under my shell. Over the past several years, though, I’ve been stepping out of the shadows, playing bigger, putting myself and my work out in the world more boldly.

I knew it was only a matter of time before critics started lobbing nasty-grams my way, and thankfully, I was prepared.

If you want to live a big, bold, creative life, one of the first orders of business is learning how to deal with criticism.

The more you step out into the spotlight, whether literally or figuratively, the more attention and feedback you’re going to get, and not all of it will be positive.

As kids on the playground, we chanted that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me,” but words can and do hurt. They have the power to destroy us if we let them.

How, then, do we armor up against criticism?

Here are five tools that will help you grow a thicker skin.

Tool #1: Separate fact from interpretation.

When I opened that nasty gram from the podcast viewer, it would have been easy to interpret it as defining a core truth about me.

Instead, I reminded myself that her assessment wasn’t objective truth; it was merely her opinion. I might not like her opinion, but ultimately it has nothing to do with me, or with objective reality.

In the same way, if I launch a new workshop or offer a painting for sale, and nobody buys, it’s easy to leap to thoughts like “My work sucks. I suck.”

The fact that I didn’t make a sale doesn’t actually tell me anything about me or my work, however. All I really know is that this particular offer wasn’t compelling to this particular audience at this particular moment.

Separating fact from interpretation can help prevent you from sliding down into a rat hole of “I suck.” And it can even help you make tactical decisions going forward: if this audience didn’t buy, maybe I want to change my messaging, or maybe I want to find a new audience!

Tool #2: Find the shiny, red button.

Have you ever noticed how certain criticisms roll right off, like water off a duck’s back, but others cut you to the core, no matter what you do?

In elementary school, when the boys tried to taunt me by fiddling with my last name, Dinwiddie, and calling me “Dumb-widdie,” it was annoying, but it didn’t really hurt. Nor did it stick, because I had a core belief that I was smart. There were no fears or beliefs about myself for the insult to hook into.

On the other hand, for many years whenever someone called me selfish, it flattened me.

Somehow I got a message as a very young child that I was selfish. Then in my first marriage, whenever I wasn’t able to meet my husband’s needs, he declared that I was selfish. Even when my friends and family reflected back that I was loving and generous, those early beliefs were like a big, shiny, red button with a hair trigger, that got pushed really easily.

For years, the tiniest comment that I was acting in my own self-interest threw me into a frenzy of self-doubt and anxiety. As a result, I bent over backward for others in an attempt to prove that I wasn’t selfish.

No wonder an accusation that I was “self-indulgently blathering on” stung me so badly!

The criticism isn’t actually the problem here; it’s the beliefs we hold about ourselves.

When we can notice which criticisms wound us the most deeply, it shines a light on what our beliefs are. Not only can this help us to find neutrality again, with this outlook, criticism can actually become a valuable tool for self-growth.

Tool #3: Re-frame criticism as positive fuel.

Years ago, when I was a beginning calligrapher, a master teacher invited me to show him my portfolio.

I was scared to hear his critiques, until he assured me, “I’m simply going to tell you how you can make your work better.” Suddenly, instead of being terrified of his feedback, I was hungry for it.

Alas, not all of our critics will be so gentle and well intentioned. It’s not always easy to practice neutrality, but the more we can shift our mindset to look for the lesson beneath the venom, the more even negative comments can be useful to us, and even empower and fuel us to keep going and make our work better.

Tool #4: Ignore anyone on the sidelines.

That said, sometimes feedback isn’t useful at all. TED speaker and best-selling author Brené Brown has received comments on her videos such as, “If I looked like Brené Brown, I’d embrace imperfection too.”

This kind of insult has nothing to do with the work in question. It’s designed to hurt, not to help, and it has nothing useful to offer.

If there are some cases when a criticism can be useful, and other cases when it does no good at all, how do we sift through feedback to determine what to pay attention to, and what to ignore?

Brown likens nasty, unhelpful comments to the insults screamed down from the stands at the gladiators fighting in the arena below. It’s easy to yell that someone else can’t fight their way out of a paper bag when you’re sitting safely out of harm’s way.

So ask yourself if your critics are offering opinions that are truly useful to you. Are they metaphorical gladiators, fighting alongside you in the arena? Or are they potential recipients of your work?

If your critic is neither of the above, it’s likely they’re trolls hanging around on the sidelines. Ignore them.

Tool #5: Find a thick-skinned role model.

Did you know that Dr. Seuss, whose books sold millions over his lifetime, had his first book rejected at least twenty times? Thank goodness he persisted!

It’s easy to think that being on the receiving end of criticism means something is wrong with us, but the truth is, being criticized is a hallmark of doing cutting-edge, important work! Countless people who are now known for amazing things were criticized or rejected at first.

Think of Madonna, Lady Gaga, Hilary Clinton, Gloria Steinem: whether or not you like their work or what they stand for, you have to admit that these women each touched a nerve in our culture, and have gotten a ton of criticism as a result. Yet they never gave up.

The next time someone lobs a bomb your way, think about someone you admire, who kept forging ahead, despite their critics. You might even want to post their picture, or quotes by them, by your workspace to inspire you to keep going.

There you have it—my five favorite tools for handling criticism. Hopefully these will help you grow a thicker skin!

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Ambitious women face more obstacles than just work-life balance

Ambitious women face more obstacles than just work-life balance | Cultural Trendz |

For the past year and change, the American conversation about women and leadership has revolved around challenges of work-life balance — which most of the time actually means "work-family balance."

The women we're hearing from — Anne-Marie Slaughter, Sheryl Sandberg, and the rest — aren't jetting out of the office at 5:30 to train for a marathon or learn Chinese or even just binge-watch Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. They're leaving "early" to take care of their children. And so we talk about having it all, leaning in, or opting out — and we talk about women who don't make it to the very top of their companies, still, as if it's a personal choice.

The truth is — as many have pointed out — that lots of ambitious people, male and female, make personal choices that take them off the path of leadership. It's also true that women are often gently but firmly nudged off this path more frequently than men, when work and family invariably clash. And that is a problem. Not just for the women, but for the companies missing out on the benefits of diversity and the economy that's not playing with a full talent deck.

But while that is a major obstacle to getting more women into senior roles, it's far from the only — or even the most important one. Yesterday, I interviewed HBR Editor Amy Bernstein about our current issue, which spotlights women in leadership. We agreed that it's time to shift our focus away from issues of work and life, and personal career decisions about "sitting at the table" or "leaving before you leave," to look at some of the institutional barriers that women still face.

One of these challenges is what Herminia Ibarra, Robin Ely, and Deborah Kolb call "second-generation gender bias." The basic idea: we become leaders iteratively, by taking increasingly challenging roles, learning, and then having our performance affirmed by those around us. For women, this process is often interrupted for a simple reason: when women display leadership behaviors we consider normative in men, we see them as unfeminine. When women act more feminine, we don't see them as leaders.

A previous McKinsey study also identified another barrier: women aren't given as many high-profile, big budget, or international assignments as their male peers. These are the developmental projects that put talented women on the path to the C-Suite.

Work from Catalyst identified another challenge: women aren't sponsored by higher-ups to the same degree that men are, although women do tend to have lots of mentoring relationships. This translates to women receiving lots of well-meant advice, but not a lot of growth roles.

(The depressing list goes on. My colleagues at HBR have pulled together some of the latest research on these and other barriers, along with a curated reading list from HBR's deep archive on this issue.)

It would be disingenuous to say that none of these challenges are related to the joys and burdens of parenting, which still disproportionately fall to women. But increasingly, men share in those joys and burdens too. And the women we're talking about — ambitious mid- to senior-level executives with their eye on the C-Suite — can afford to mitigate a lot of those burdens. So I think it's also disingenuous to portray — as so much of the popular press does — the lack of women at senior levels as evidence of some personal choice on their part.

At the same time, it's not exactly that there's a glass ceiling (or a glass cliff, or a maternal wall): the days of blatant discrimination are (mostly) behind us. Today, it's more like a glass obstacle course of a hundred hard-to-see hurdles.

No wonder so many women seeking leadership roles suffer from bruised shins. No wonder so many of them never make it to the other side.

And yet, as Bernstein was quick to point out, when I asked her if it was depressing that we're still, in 2013, talking about this:

But we can deal with it. We can address it. Nissan addresses it, Avon addresses it, Merck addresses it. Big companies that don't turn easily address it, and they make a difference, and they have seen results. So yes, [gender bias] is bad, and no one want to have to talk about it, but given that it's still out there, isn't it wonderful that we can figure out how to deal with it, how to address it, and how to overcome it. And then we can go on to the next thing.

Here's to overcoming it.

Vilma Bonilla's insight:

"The reasons women don't reach the top go beyond having it all and leaning in." Click on the title or image above to view original post. ~ V.B.

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LeBron James reportedly made $30M from Apple's Beats grab

LeBron James reportedly made $30M from Apple's Beats grab | Cultural Trendz |

A report on Wednesday claims Basketball star and Samsung pitchman LeBron James made a sweet $30 million payday from his small piece of Beats Electronics when Apple grabbed up the headphone manufacturer for $3 billion back in May.


    Citing sources familiar with the matter, ESPN claims James struck a deal in 2008 to promote Beats’ headphones in exchange for a small interest in the then-fledgling company. While the exact details are unknown, James’ share of the firm netted him over $30 million in cash and stock when Apple purchased Beats Electronics and Beats Music for $3 billion last month.

The approximately $30 million sum is thought to be the largest equity cash profit ever for a pro athlete.

Beats issued a statement last week, saying they plan on using James in future ads, despite his ties with Apple’s arch-rival Samsung. However, Apple has not as yet made known their opinion on that decision. The NBA star has been featured in a number of ads for Samsung’s mobile devices.

James did make an appearance in Beats’ World Cup ad, which featured Brazilian soccer star Neymar da Silva Santos, Jr. The commercial was one of the first to air after the Apple acquisition of Beats, and showed the company’s headphones being used exclusively with Apple’s iOS devices.

James can take financial comfort in the $30 million he received as part of the Apple buy of Beats, as it is expected he’ll soon be taking a salary cut as part of an attempt by the Miami Heat to add New York Knicks player Carmelo Anthony to an already strong Heat team.

Vilma Bonilla's insight:

No wonder Lebron has so many haters. I am rooting for him and the Heat, against the odds.

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Joh. A. Benckiser to buy Caribou Coffee for $340 million in latest coffee deal

Joh. A. Benckiser to buy Caribou Coffee for $340 million in latest coffee deal | Cultural Trendz |

Forgive the deal makers at Joh. A. Benckiser if they seem a bit hyperactive this year. They've just added another round of caffeine to their portfolio with their third coffee purchase this year.

Vilma Bonilla's insight:

I enjoyed a dirty chai (two shots of expresso) from this local coffee spot in Troy, Michigan this afternoon. De-liscious! Best chai ever. ~ V.B.

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