When I was growing up, there was a nature center nearby with a woodland trail I used to go to often. When I got to the wooden bridge on the trail, would stomp my feet with a “Trip, trap! trip, trap!” pretending I was one of the Three Billy Goats Gruff from the Norwegian fairy tale.
Over time though, I had forgotten the lesson of this tale in some situations. Hard charging and opinionated by nature, when someone was critical of my opinions or work, I felt well equipped to defend them objectively and without getting personal. However, when I started putting myself “out there” in broader circles, I felt more vulnerable and defensive when unable to respond directly.
“There is only one way to avoid criticism…”
Ever hear the saying don’t stick your head out of the foxhole if you’re not willing to be shot at? Criticism you can learn from is one thing, but harsh, unwarranted or baseless criticism takes fortitude. Aristotle wrote “There is only one way to avoid criticism: Do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” and Woodrow Wilson said “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.”
Aspiring to be an outspoken doer and change things, I had to learn how to take criticism and even make enemies and not take it so personally or let fear of it prevent me from doing things. People are going to nitpick you. People are not going to like you. As Lisa Simpson explained it, “Everybody needs a nemesis. Sherlock Holmes had his Dr. Moriarty, Mountain Dew has its Mellow Yellow, even Maggie has that baby with the one eyebrow.”
The Internet makes unwarranted sniping and provocation by “trolls” only easier. Anyone can write a blog, online review, post to Facebook or tweet their opinion, have no basis for it, yet have an audience of thousands, even millions anonymously without consequence.
Fear of criticism or enemies can be paralyzing. As communicators we can’t afford to be timid or let them get to us. We have to have a plan, confidence to execute it, and the ability to pass that confidence onto clients or management. If you are too risk adverse, you end up doing nothing.
Channeling the Three Billy Goats Gruff
Now more than ever it is important to remember the lesson of the Three Billy Goats Gruff when dealing with critics and trolls.
- You’re going to get criticism and maybe even enemies. Accept the risk inherent in putting your message, product, etc. out there in the media. The first two billy goats weighed the pros and cons of even engaging them to begin with. Be prepared to write them off mentally and emotionally. You are not going to please all of the people all of the time.
- If you do engage, have the self-confidence of the third billy goat. He confidently called out the troll, (in the original version) gored him, then crossed the bridge as nothing happened to fill up on grass. Don’t make it a long engagement; reply with factual information, take the high road, and move on with your life.
- If the criticism is valid, then own up to it with the same confidence and fix it