The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: “How do you deal with negative scrutiny while trying to pursue your dream?” is written by Renae Scott, CMO of Togo’s Eateries.
Twenty years ago, my 3-year-old daughter was drawing a beautiful, sloppy mess of orange, blue, and yellow at our kitchen table. Beaming, she turned the masterpiece toward her visiting cousin, who was 5 years old.
“That’s ugly,” her cousin said.
The joy melted off my daughter’s face. I wanted to step in, but I didn’t. Facing negative scrutiny is a part of life. In order to build the inner strength and conviction to follow our dreams, we have to condition ourselves against detractors. Later that day, I told my daughter to ignore her cousin and keep drawing.
Today, I offer the same advice with a nuance: Learn to recognize the difference between destructive criticism and constructive feedback. Destructive critics want to discourage you from pursuing your dream. “That’s ugly” is destructive: My niece wasn’t trying to help my daughter become a better artist. (FYI: My niece grew up to be a wonderful person.)
In every workplace, you will deal with critics who want you to fail. They find pleasure in failure because they abandoned their own dream and feel validated when others do the same.
The positive form of scrutiny is constructive feedback. Although it may test your convictions, constructive feedback works like exercise, breaking your vision down so you may build it into something stronger. Constructive critics say, “I think you could make that drawing more compelling. Here’s how…”
If you pursue your vision far enough, you will lead others, and you will risk conflating those two forms of scrutiny. Create an environment that starves destructive criticism and nourishes constructive feedback.
To do that, first surround yourself with a crew of optimists. We can all spot an Eeyore: the mopey, melancholic donkey from Winnie-the-Pooh books. Avoid Eeyores. Start with the yes-we-can crowd.
Second, hire some realists. Whereas an Eeyore finds the worst in everything, realists analyze the vision for blind spots. They anticipate problems and formulate solutions. A realist says, “We may encounter this, and here’s what we can do about it.”
Third, acknowledge failures before destructive critics can exploit them. Haters love when things go wrong—it’s a juicy steak of gossip that satiates their worldview.
Be the first to say, “I messed up [thing that went wrong]. Let’s get back on track to accomplish [restated vision]. To do that, we’re going to [take this course of action].” This template converts failure into success—as long as you keep your word.
Fourth, do not look back. Your vision is going to alienate people. You cannot make everyone happy, and managing the “exceptions” will kill your vision. The exceptions become an excuse for inaction. “We can’t do X because we’ll disappoint customer Y,” is the chorus of a fading dream. If you’ve rattled a few cages, you’re on track. The bigger the vision, the tougher the resistance you will encounter.
Fifth, express gratitude. Nothing neutralizes destructive scrutiny like appreciation. Show gratitude to the people who support your vision—and the people who don’t. Gratitude thwarts your attackers because they need your resentment to justify their ill will.
I still have a folder of handwritten notes from an old boss who turned gratitude into a leadership practice. Mementos like these fortify people against doubt, ambiguity, and dejection, which are all part of pursuing a dream.
These five tactics can neutralize negative scrutiny, but they can’t change your emotional reaction to it. Remember: You are not your work, and you are not your vision. My daughter was not her drawing. By distinguishing between self and work, you can condition yourself to handle attacks stoically. Instead of wasting time being defensive, you take away the target.
Although you may fear detractors, no one can crush your vision quicker than you. You may ask yourself, “Is this really my dream? Why am I going through all of this suffering? Do I really care?”
In your gut, you know if the dream is real. It’s not beholden to data or ephemeral trends. It might have started as a mess of orange, blue, and yellow, but now it’s so clear and potent that you can smile when someone says, “That’s ugly.” No matter what, keep drawing.