How annoying is it? You’re breaking your back working away on some intractable problem when along comes some armchair critic to tell you where you’ve been going wrong. Very is the answer. They have absolutely no concept of the issues that you’re facing, the hassle that you are under and the multiple directions in which you are being pulled. If they could only walk a mile in your shoes they may not be so forthright and objectionable.
So should you ignore them? Perhaps yes but then again perhaps no. It’s just too easy to dismiss a suggestion or comment however well or badly intentioned it was meant to be. It’s just too easy to dig your heels in or bury your head in the sand and hope that they will go away and it’s just too easy to write them off as a crank or a busy body or as someone with too much time on their hands.
What is much harder is to recognise that insight can come from the uninitiated, the uninformed or the downright ignorant. It can come from a ‘eureka’ moment, a naïve understanding, a flash of genius or a throw away comment. And what better opportunity to reflect on what you are doing can there be than a criticism?
My first sales manager said to me that if you don’t get complaints then you are not trading and in a way he was right. Doing business, making change and getting involved in people’s lives will inevitably lead to some difference in opinion or clash of priorities which will ultimately lead to someone pointing out where you have gone wrong.
So rather than losing your rag and telling them where to get off, try and look behind their clumsy language and understand what motivated them to raise the issue with you in the first place. They may be wrong but then again they may have a point. It could be that you are heading down the wrong burrow and ‘doing the wrong thing righter’ as John Seddon, MD of Vanguard Consulting says, is just not going to achieve your objectives.
You never know, that next barbed comment may be the very thing that you need. This is what I take Edward de Bono’s lateral thinking to mean, the use of an external factor or stimulus to change perceptions and direction of travel.
I’ve heard it said that you should keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer. How about you should listen to your colleagues but listen more closely to your critics. They may well be right.