Constructive Criticism: How to tell when the “haters” have a point.

To start, let’s consider “American Idol”.  (And while we’re considering, please also think of a time when you made a terrible decision.)  The show “American Idol” has identified and produced many highly-talented musical acts.  However, it is almost more popular for its rejects, for those people who were so delusional about their abilities that they gain a short-term measure of infamy for their embarrassing auditions.

There is a running script shared amongst these rejected contestants where they disagree vehemently with the judges and reject their critiques, assuring the camera that they will achieve their dreams regardless of what any critics (frequently mislabelled as “haters” in these diatribes) say.

It is easy for us to find amusement at the expense of these failed performers.  However, how many of us have made equally bad decisions which, mercificully, were not recorded for the benefit of a nationwide audience?  Thinking back to a terrible decision you have made in your own life, were there people in your life who, at the time, advised you against that decision?  Did you listen, or were you dismissive of them as critics?

I’m asking about these things because, lately, I’ve seen some terrible business advice being shared across social media.  Particularly “inspirational” quotes such as

“Don’t let the voice of critics paralyze you.  Believe in yourself.  You can do anything you set your mind to!”

On the surface, that sounds like great advice.  “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” and all that.

However, the problem comes when entrepreneurs cannot accept any criticism, and instead write off unpleasant truths as the sour grapes of “haters”.

So, how can you gauge when criticism is constructive and when it is truly just jaded attempts at crushing your dreams?  Ask yourself these questions…

Does this person love me?  Or, do they at least like you or care about you?  There is the possibility that a loved one will be more cautious than optimistic, as they don’t want to see you suffer a setback.  Someone who is just a casual friend or acquaintance might be more encouraging, as its more important to them that you like them.

Alternatively, what is the likelihood that this person despises you to the extent that they would actively attempt to prevent your success?  If the person disparaging your plans is an actual avowed enemy, feel free to ignore their criticism (and, perhaps, avoid interacting with them socially at all).

Think back to those hopeless “American Idol” contestants.  The judges don’t critique them because they hate them, and many of the contestants families offer them excessive encouragement out of blind (or, in this case, deaf) love.  The judges are able to be objective because of their personal indifference to the individual.

Does this person stand to gain or lose from my failure or success?  If you are discussing a new business venture with someone who would be a direct competitor, they probably are not rooting for your success.

However, if they are a spouse or someone with whom you are financially entwined, it’s possible that their criticism is coming from a place of caution.  While they might share in your success, they also stand to lose along with you in the event of failure.

Also beware of “friends” who are willing to build you up but not invest in you.  There are people who will encourage you into risky ventures in the hopes that you will remember them in your success, but who will abandon you should you fail.  While someone is patting you on the back, make sure they aren’t also trying to hitch onto your coattails.

 Am I paying this person and, if so, what am I paying them for?  Obviously, as people in the business of providing financial guidance, we believe in the value of business coaching and related fields.

However, we do not see the value in “yes men”.

There seem to be two types of people you can hire to help you with your business:  The first type is how we at The Bookkeeper fancy ourselves.  We want to help you succeed, but we don’t think you’re paying us just to give you “‘Atta boys!”  We want to help you set and achieve realistic goals and, if that means saying something you’re not happy with, well, that’s part of the service we’re being paid for.

The second type of business professional (one that seems to be becoming more popular lately) is the professional encourager.  They provide endless affirmation and assurance that, “If you can dream it, you can do it!”

They are paid cheerleaders.

And, as long as you know what you’re getting into and that’s what you want, that’s fine.  By all means, pay someone to tell you what a great job you’re doing; it’s your money.

But be aware that all of those good vibes do not guarantee your success.  There have been countless business ventures that have failed despite entrepreneurs really believing in them.

Therefore, we hold to a less popular old saying:  “When two people in business always agree, one of them is superfluous.”

Disagreement can be healthy.  We live in an imperfect world where not every idea is a good one and not every venture will succeed.  Recognizing that can help you to recognize who is acting as a critic out of “hate”, and who is doing it out of love.

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