Project Practitioners > Criticism - Ain't It Fun?

Criticism - Ain't It Fun?

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 5 minutes


Last week, I delivered a presentation. Within the comment section, I saw comments ranging from this is putting me to sleep to this is the best one of the day. From this tone, it is difficult at the end of the day to you saved the best for last.

The range of high to low always impresses me. To get validation from others will always leave you wanting more. Imagine reading all of these and taking them to heart. On the one hand, you are the greatest to ever present; then, in a moment, you are a waste of time.

The anonymity the internet provides makes these comments harsher. Instead of ‘good’ fainting interest, people can say how they actually feel. ‘It was okay’ turns into ‘this is recommended before bed.’ These harsh comments seem to outweigh the positive tenfold.

Someone tells you sincerely ‘good job’ just does not have the same power as ‘you suck.’ Your boss tells you a million things you do correctly, but that one mistake you made continues to eat at you. Criticism hurts most when it is true, or you feel it is true. Sometimes, perception is greater than the truth. If you believe it was a poor performance, then somebody lets you know it was awful, the spiral continues.

Criticism is not necessarily for public consumption. You can hear it through the grapevine. Others are questioning your ability or knowledge. People are starting to push back when they never have in the past. Critiques are not always direct or obvious. Subtle hints that people doubt you start to pop up. Rather than just asking you to confirm, they will ask others and want documentation of the conversation.

How to handle criticism?


Constructive or Rude

Find out the difference. Some people can rudely say constructive things. ‘Your tone is putting me to sleep’ is rude instead of use some inflection in your voice. Using inflection and being entertaining is constructive. Commenting ‘zzzz’ is being a donkey.

Constructive criticism is necessary for growth. Your weaknesses get highlighted, and it hurts. But that pain is necessary for improvement. Without it, you go too long without being checked and fall into the trap of an easy plateau.

However, there are ways to say certain things that do not have that lasting sting. Calling someone out in front of their peers probably is not the best way to approach feedback. Bring them into an office, close the door, and breakdown performance using facts, not opinions. Show the numbers. Give concrete examples.


It is Not Personal

Most of the criticism you hear is from people you do not know. You can work with somebody for years and not ‘know’ them. You know of them, but no more. The criticizer may have had a hundred things go wrong today, and you asked the wrong question at the wrong time. You receive the blunt end of an ear lashing. While it may hurt, you cannot take it personally.

Often, there is a shared goal amongst the criticizing. This person is harping on your skills because the two of you are working on a project together. With the project in mind, this person needs more from you. The ‘you’ in this instance could be anybody who is estimating, scheduling, budgeting, invoicing, and so on.

Again, the tone can be an issue and rudeness a factor. Some people have a way of cutting deep that makes it seem personal, or they are constantly riding you, so the feel of a personal attack is evident. Just know, if you were to quit and someone else fills those shoes, the same criticisms would be coming their way.


One Foot In Front of The Other

When all is said and done, keep on truckin’. People can be like crabs escaping a bucket. The moment one of them starts to make some headway, the others pull them back down. They do not want to see success. If you stop, they win.

Instead, keep on climbing. Eventually, they will be tired of pulling you down and have no choice but to let you go. It takes too much energy to keep people down, especially when you can prop them up with the same or less energy.

Think of negative comments. They are always a paragraph's worth of opinions that continues on and on. Positive comments are no longer than a sentence. The energy and time that goes into that negative diatribe could have been used to send multiple nice comments to people. Encouraging is not cool. No one gets recognized for sending positive messages. The controversial statements are what bring eyes and attention. Be better and keep on truckin’.



Criticism does not go away. You can stop reading comments, but there is always a few that sneak through whether it is email or verbal. You can control your reactions to it. Be it rude or constructive, both can improve your game. If someone calls you a ‘dummy,’ they probably mean you could improve your communication skills. However, the way they said it makes you want to improve your stand up fighting skills.

You may have been the last straw in someone’s day. You just happened to mess up at the perfect time slightly, and now you get to hear about it. If someone is lashing out, rarely is it your fault or what you did to make them react that way. Tenants are a fantastic example of someone not fixing a cabinet door while on site, and apparently that is ruining their lives. An oven does not work for 24 hours so they cannot eat and will starve to death. Gotta love it.

In the end, keep your eyes on the prize. This tenant will forget about what he or she said the second that new oven gets installed so why would you continue to beat yourself up over it? There will be more like them in the future. Your ability to handle them will be greater.

What a long, strange trip it will be.

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