The Angry Bee: How to Handle Criticism in Your Life and Business

My principal in drama school, Sam Kogan, used to say that you need points of reference for good acting; not just as a viewer/director, but as an actor. What he meant was that you, as an actor, need to know when you've done a good performance, because as an actor you will work with good and bad directors and you will be reviewed by good and bad critics. You will have to constantly strive to do your best; analyzing your acting not just through the eyes of others, but through your own eyes. The eyes of others aren't always objective. Just because you receive praise doesn't mean you did your best. Just because you are put down, doesn't mean you did a bad job. You need to know for yourself where you stand.

If you've ever read what critics have to say about acting you know their response to a certain actor sometimes has more to do with their own personal preferences, as opposed to their acting. We all feel more comfortable with certain people. And as such it's almost impossible to stay objective when watching a movie, or play.

In life the same applies: people will forever project their view of reality onto you. You know the people who are always fighting? There's a reason for that. They provoke people to fight with them. They might not see it themselves, but it's what they are doing. Likely, before provoking the fight, they feel unjustly treated in one way or another. The funny thing is, they feel that way over and over again. Why? Because of the way they view the world. Because of their past. And because they feel that they project it onto you, you react and then they can justify it.

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Photo by Oistein Thomassen; a Production of Hedda Gabler directed by Agnes Sorheim at what is now the Kogan Academy of Dramatic Arts (I'm to the left)

As people we do tend to react when we are attacked for who we are, or what we do -- when someone is trying to start a fight with us. Our first reaction tend to be aggression, or defense, though some try to please the attacker instead, whilst others lie down on the ground and weep. To quietly analyze our own actions and accept criticism where due, whilst simultaneously and kindly explaining where it is not, is an art. We all want to feel good and when we are hit by something that doesn't make us feel good, like criticism, all defense mechanisms are turned up high. Likewise, there's a difference between criticism and putting someone down -- just because someone made a mistake you have no right belittling them or berating them. You can accept someone's criticism without belittling or berating yourself as well and thank them for their criticism, but make it clear you don't accept the negativity surrounding it.

When in doubt -- don't berate people when they attack you; support people to become their better self. Lead with example instead of pushing those who are pushing you. We all get angry, we all get mad, but only little people try belittling others. Instead of pushing them down further, try raising them up. And if that doesn't work -- walk away. It's pointless being around people who try to put you down.

There is this quote about people who reignite your fire when the flame goes out. Usually it's a friend, a colleague, or a stranger who really truly believes in you, or simply loves you; flaws and all. And let's not forget that what we can't do alone, we can do together. Whilst we all need to learn to stand on our own two feet, we also need to acknowledge the miracle of friendship, teamwork and upliftment. We all fuck up. Some help us screw it right. (I tend to refer to it as make-up sex -- sounds a bit juicier, don't you think?!) Besides if we push people down, they stay down. They keep being miserable. And we keep having to deal with their misery. Happy, confident people are a lot easier to be around.

So if you have a business, you lead an organization, or you deal with people in any other way, remember to lift up those who are pushing you down. If they get to your level, they will stop pushing. If they refuse raising to the occasion you need to move away though, or they will start sinking other people around you too.

Teamwork makes the dream work, so make the team work! And when you feel your worst having been attacked by someone, remember your good sides. Remember those who can and will ignite your flame. Ignite your own flame with love. And laugh -- another thing Sam taught me was that most events sooner or later end up being memories; thoughts in our head. They won't matter anymore. Look upon your old memories and thoughts surrounding them with humor. Even when an unpleasant event is happening, try to debunk its negative impact with humor, because maybe your thoughts about what's happening don't have to be as bad as they are. Maybe you could see it in a different light. And maybe humor will get you there.

When I first started studying under Sam I thought him terribly inconsiderate joking about people's bad memories. At his funeral I wished he was there to crack a joke. Bad memories don't have to make you suffer -- they're just memories. Nor do bad events always have to make you suffer. It's all in the eye of the beholder.