Rule #17: If the flak is heavy, you’re near the target.  (No flak, no target.) From Management Lessons of the Memphis Belle copyright: Eric Lieberman and Paul Byrne

I’ve yet to accomplish anything worth a damn when I didn’t have a fair number of critics lined up and all too happy to tell me why I was out of my mind. It’s a fair bet you’ve seen this before as well.

In my experience, the more audacious and creative the idea, program or strategy, the more vocal the critics become.

“We can’t do that.”

“It will never work.”

“We tried that three years ago, and it didn’t work then and it won’t work now.”

Or the old standby, “You’re out of your mind.”

A Fortune 50 client of mine has a sign in their learning center that reads something to the effect of, “You’ll be told No too many times to count.  Keep pushing for what you believe in or we’re in trouble.”

I love that!

The Destructive Power of Workplace Critics:

If you’ve ever found yourself suddenly under fire from one or more sources for an idea or program, you recognize how annoying and potentially destructive the criticism can be.  And I’m not talking about someone offering a good, objective alternative viewpoint, I’m talking about the global criticism of your initiative and attempts to discredit you in the process.

The worst of the critics seem to thrive on sewing doubt and pushing others off-balance. It’s a form of bullying carried over from the playground days.  The location has changed, but the tools of the critic’s trade are well honed from years of practice.  Rumor, innuendo, disparaging comments, and in-your-face attacks are all tools of the critic’s trade.

Critic or Devil’s Advocate?

It’s important to differentiate between the useful, formal role of Devil’s Advocate and the Office Critic I’ve described above. The Devil’s Advocate is supposed to poke holes in ideas and challenge groups to look at the world through a different set of eyes.  Proper devil’s advocacy isn’t about derailing or destabilizing.  It’s about challenging people to think harder and to look in different directions. Executed properly, the person playing the role helps identify potentially flawed decisions or directions and encourages fresh thoughts.

The Critic’s motives are often political or at least selfishly personal. Change represents stress and work for the critic. Worse yet, it provides an opportunity for others to see beneath the painstakingly constructed illusions that many corporate critics work so hard to foster about their own contributions.

5 Ideas for Coping with Workplace Critics:

1. Always check the view from the critic’s perspective. I’m all for understanding the views of others…including critics.  If someone has a different way of looking at things, I want to try and get a glimpse of the situation through their eyes.  It’s unlikely you or I have thought of everything, so, take the time to learn from even your harshest critics.

2. Invite a Critic to Your Table. On occasion, a critic is someone who hasn’t figured out a more elegant way of asking for a seat at your table.  Your willingness to provide a seat might build a new ally.  Just don’t count on it.  And there’s a bit of truth in the notion of keeping your enemies close at hand.  Besides, good groups are pretty effective at self-policing.

3. Duel with a Critic, But Only on Your Terms: I observed as a great idea person (who happened to be a master politician) effectively maneuvered her biggest critic into a bake-off.  Idea versus idea.  Political capital versus political capital.  The critic had nothing but bluster and blather and was effectively vanquished in the court of project team opinion.

4. Shrug Off the Critics. (That’s my polite form of, “Don’t let the bastards slow you down.” In my experience, the naysayers tend not to be those holding decision-making power.  Build your coalition and your support with those that control the resources and the decision-making power and you effectively neutralize critics.

5. Deliver on your ideas. Nothing silences critics like success.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Your path to project or career success will likely be filled with obstacles, setbacks and in some cases, people not particularly interested in seeing you succeed.  A good colleague uses the barbs of her critics as fuel for her own performance.  “Every shot they take helps me work that much harder to succeed.” Certainly taking strength from unfounded criticism and unqualified critics is much more effective than letting it get to you.

And remember:

-“You’ll be told No too many times to count.  Keep pushing for what you believe in or we’re in trouble.”

-“Rule #17 If the flak is heavy, you’re near the target.  (No flak, no target.)”

Art Petty coaches, trains and speaks on leadership development, high performance team development, feedback and decision-making. Drop Art a note to talk about a workshop program, speaking opportunity or coaching need.