I had been thinking recently about the difference between “Haters” and “Critics,” and I decided to write a little about how I define them and why. While I think that most critics will blur the lines (think pundits on television shows and some bloggers), the difference is important to the rest of us who are trying to make things happen and get better at what we do.
Let’s begin by looking at what we usually mean when we say “haters.”
Most of the time haters are people who are eager to put us down, tell us that we can’t do something or that we shouldn’t do something. They are the ones who are getting together to throw a big parade to celebrate if we fail. If you work in a big organization or work in the public sector, you might know a few of these people:
(Trolls. They are often referred to as trolls.)
They are the people who imitate the Middle School behavior of pointing to something that you are doing or something intrinsically about you and make fun of it.
The point of the laughter is to make themselves feel bigger by making someone else feel smaller. Haters by nature want you to fail so that they can feel better with their lot in life. (I’ve never seen a genuinely happy person tear another person down just for the fun of it.) The trouble with haters is that sometimes they might point to something true.
(Oh really? I missed that field goal? Thanks.)
Their derision can seem like valid criticism or like they are making a constructive point, but they are not. The only goal is to make you feel small. Any attempts to integrate their feedback will only result in low self-esteem or impotent anger.
Critics are another story altogether. While we tend to conflate them with haters, their role is decidedly different (at least in the ideal).
In the movie “Chef,” Jon Favreau plays a chef who gets a terrible review from one of the top food critics in the country. The critic accuses him of getting stale with his menu, losing his creativity and just becoming another bad celebrity chef. The main character loses his mind over the review, attacks him on Twitter and then publicly embarrasses himself in the restaurant and online. He also loses his job.
His anger toward the critic (played wonderfully by Oliver Platt) is understandable because he has called him out as being mediocre. This movie then becomes about redemption and how the chef finds his way back to his integrity and his love of cooking. The critic in the end becomes a kind of hero for the chef, rejoicing in his success and his come back. (Uh, spoiler alert?)
Ideally the critic wants the artist to be the best that she can be so that the art is the best that it can be. This is why we need to take the time to listen to the critiques (the ones who are not confusing hating with critiquing), no matter how painful it might be.
Perhaps you have a few critics in your work? You might have a boss who gives you a lot of feedback about your performance that you don’t like to hear. Never mind just your hurt feelings, it’s the injustice of how this critic only focuses on your negatives without looking at your positives. We can all understand how much of a bummer that can be.
No matter how painful it may feel, take the time to look at the criticism objectively. If it doesn’t align with how you see yourself, play a game that allows you to be open to the criticism.
Here’s how it works:
- Is the person giving the feedback someone I respect? Do I think that they care about the quality of the work?
- Is the criticism about me or is it about them? (Examples of it being about them: “I never should have trusted you with this account” or “I wouldn’t have done it that way.”)
- Is it true? If so, is it actionable?
This last one is the most important in my mind. Actors get feedback all the time about how they are being on stage or how they should be on stage. Sometimes they joke that the feedback amounts to “you should be taller,” which could be both true and not actionable. Actors have to trust themselves and know their limitations if they are going to utilize criticism to the fullest extent. The best feedback (and the bravest) is when a director calls you out for “not being brave enough” on stage. That stings, but it is also often true and actionable.
If we can tell the difference between the haters and the critics in our life, then we can begin to improve our performance in many ways. The only reason to listen to feedback is because we want to fulfill our full potential in something. We can’t do that if we are only looking for appreciation and we can’t do that if we turn our attention to trying to accommodate the haters. We have to be open without being a doormat.
If you desire to improve and grow as an artist and a worker, then it is important that you find the kind of critics who are brave enough to give you the feedback to make you better.
Ignore the haters and seek out your critics to reach your full potential.