Do opinions matter?
People often have opinions on things that are trivial, easily understood or based on common experience. They may either like or hate your style, your decisions or the way you rear kids. They may easily criticize your actions and your work.
How do you take it on?
- Are you upset or depressed after the slightest criticism?
- Do you feel a knot in your stomach when people judge both you and your work?
- Are you defending yourself to prove the critic is wrong?
- Are you debating over and over again of how to respond to a negative feedback?
Or, … do you just notice it, register and move on?
Well, one of the keys to personal mastery is the ability to distinguish whom to listen to and whom to ignore. It is of course not always easy because opinions can be harsh and they may evoke strong emotions. They may touch you at some very personal level. They may deeply hurt you, especially when you feel they are unjust.
If somebody judges you as fat, ugly, unskilled, stupid or alike, does it affect you? Even if you are such, so what? If this is a fact, it is a fact and that’s it.
Is the critic perfect herself? Is she skinny, beautiful, skilled and smart? Does she provide you not only with the opinion but also a practical way of making things better?
Why do people criticize?
A simple answer is this: people either want to add value (contribute) to your (or their) development or put you down so that they can feel worthy and successful. The latter usually happens because of jealousy, feelings of insecurity or their lack of self-esteem.
Even if they want to add value it doesn’t mean it is of use to you. A general piece of advice may be well meant but completely irrelevant.
Even if they want to put you down, it doesn’t mean that you need to respond to it. Just thank them for the feedback and perhaps challenge them with naming their intentions.
When people are confronted with a difficult subject, they stay silent. On the other hand, when people are confronted with an easy subject, everybody has an opinion.
There is an interesting concept by Parkinson on the Law of Triviality or the importance of the bike-shed. I now cite a big piece from Wikipedia because it is perfect to explain the point. Read on.
Cyril Northcote Parkinson’ [..] dramatizes this “law of triviality” with the example of a committee’s deliberations on an atomic reactor, contrasting it to deliberations on a bicycle shed. As he put it: “The time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved.” A reactor is used because it is so vastly expensive and complicated that an average person cannot understand it, so one assumes that those that work on it understand it. On the other hand, everyone can visualize a cheap, simple bicycle shed, so planning one can result in endless discussions because everyone involved wants to add a touch and show personal contribution.
[…] Parkinson writes about a finance committee meeting with a three-item agenda.
The first is the signing of a $10 million contract to build a reactor, the second a proposal to build a $2,350 bicycle shed for the clerical staff, and the third proposes $57 a year to supply refreshments for the Joint Welfare Committee.
The $10 million number is too big and too technical, and it passes in 2.5 minutes.
The bicycle shed is a subject understood by the board, and the dollar amount within their life experience, so committee member Mr. Softleigh says that an aluminium roof is too expensive and they should use asbestos. Mr. Holdfast wants galvanized iron. Mr. Daring questions the need for the shed at all. Mr. Holdfast disagrees.
Parkinson then writes: “The debate is fairly launched. A sum of $2,350 is well within everybody’s comprehension. Everyone can visualize a bicycle shed. Discussion goes on, therefore, for forty-five minutes, with the possible result of saving some $300. Members at length sit back with a feeling of accomplishment.”
Parkinson then described the third agenda item, writing: “There may be members of the committee who might fail to distinguish between asbestos and galvanized iron, but every man there knows about coffee – what it is, how it should be made, where it should be bought – and whether indeed it should be bought at all. This item on the agenda will occupy the members for an hour and a quarter, and they will end by asking the Secretary to procure further information, leaving the matter to be decided at the next meeting.”
It’s interesting, isn’t it? There are multiple parallels to it in real life.
You will always be faced with opinions of others or given unsolicited advice, especially about surface issues. Why? Because these are easy to make, there is a conversation / confrontation going on and the sense of fulfillment that the critic’s day has not been lost 😉
Some people choose to be offended by what you do or say, or like to play the victim role, just because it is their style. They love to gossip, judge and make you feel inferior, so that they can feel better themselves.
Sometimes, the criticism is intended for your best interest, simply because your friends, family or teachers do worry about your decisions, your kids and your future. This is their worry though, not yours.
Sometimes, the criticism is meant to save the critics because your acting or thinking shakes their world too much.The best defense is attack, as some say, and the criticism will be as sharp as a laser to protect their own homeostasis.
Although opinions matter, you need to take them with a pinch of salt. Or, two ;).
How to handle criticism
If you get opinions, judgements and criticism, just notice them and determine whether they are of any value.
The key is to ask yourself:
“Is this person in the position I want to be? Is he/she an expert on the subject involved?”
Are you getting criticism of starting a business from people who have never had one?
Are you getting marriage advice from friends who can’t hold their own relationships?
Are you getting judgements on your change in carrier from people who are scared to change?
It’s easy to point out things you’re doing wrong, or how you should think, act and achieve things. It is sufficient for you to recognize a negative feedback, look at it with your filter of indifference on, apply it when appropriate and discard it otherwise. It may take you years before you learn this attitude, but you will eventually reach this point so if you decide to.
The power to control your reactions and attitudes to bad comments or harsh judgements is necessary for a personal mastery.
You don’t have to listen to everyone out there.
You don’t have to take all the criticism on equal basis.
Just remember that opinions are in the eye of the beholder.
Only some opinions deserve your attention.
The rest is to pass.
The image above shows a beautiful quilt by Inge Duin. See more of her works on www.ingeduin.nl.