Those Who Can, Do… Those Who Can’t, Criticize

Something to PonderThat’ll never work…!”

What the hell are you thinking…?”

That’s a terrible idea…!”

Anyone who’s ever done anything of consequence has heard those, or similar words.

Setting out on your own, taking your life into your own hands, and doing things your own way will bring out the critics in droves. That’s the nature of the game.

There’s a huge difference between constructive criticism and plain old regular criticism:

  • Constructive criticism is designed help you grow.
  • Regular criticism is designed to keep you down.

You’ll know instinctually the difference. If your head is saying, “Dude… quit harshing on my idea,” but your gut is saying, “You, know… what he’s saying makes sense,” that’s constructive criticism.

If your head and your gut is saying “This guy’s an idiot,” that’s regular criticism.

Constructive criticism has value. It can be a tool, and is generally offered by those you respect. It’s a form of advice and useful feedback.

Regular criticism comes from those out to belittle you, and it usually comes from two types of people — the “Never Was” and the “Once Was.”

The Never Was

The Never Was is bitter. They tried and failed (meaning they gave up) or they never tried. They were too afraid to pursue their own dreams, so they take their cowardice out on others. The Never Was:

  • Tries to make themselves feel better, by putting your ideas down.
  • Takes random, incoherent shots — none of their criticisms really make sense.
  • Results to name calling because they can’t formulate a valid argument.
  • Tells you that something will not work, but not why.
  • Uses their failure as a reason for why you won’t succeed.

The Once Was

The Once Was had their moment in the sun, and they have used that brief success to create an expert facade. Though they haven’t done much recently, they relive their glory days by providing unsolicited advice (criticism) about how things should be done. It should be done the way was it was done 10 years ago — that’s how.

The Once Was is easy to spot in the wild. Every criticism contains the phrase, “Well back when I was with Big Successful Company, Inc…

They also tend to struggle with new ways of doing things, cheaper ways of doing things, and any idea that’s not their own.

The Worst Kind of Critic

Ignoring the critics can be difficult, but the worst kind of critic is the inner critic.

It’s the voice in your head that chooses to listen to the naysayers, records what they say, then plays it back to you constantly.

It’s easy to say:

  • Don’t let it get to you.
  • Don’t listen to the inner critic.

But you know what — that too, is part of the game. Just like all the critics out there, there might be something of value coming from the inner critic.

So listen to what the critics have to say — both those inside your head and out. Look for the value in what’s being said, and take the advice of those who help you grow.

Then confidently, yet politely, tell the others to get bent.


  1. I’ve had big problems with the inner critic. Fortunately, it doesn’t bother me as much as it once did. Probably because I do more and overcontemplate less than I once did.

    Criticism in general hasn’t bothered me for a while now, although I do listen to the constructive sort when I get the chance.

  2. Working with a team of developers under me, there is a certain amount of pride that’s involved as well as the bragging rights that go to he who fixes a problem. And though these behaviours are a balance between playful banter and Self-showcasing, this can easily escalate.

    The one thing I will not allow is finger-pointing and Nay-saying. Any critism of someone elses work is always done respectfully and can never be without offering a different or better solution. IF not that, than at least an indept explanation of why!

    Thus far it has kept things quiet serene!

    Excellent piece once again.

  3. I certainly have noticed that if you’re enthusiastic about something, a lot of people are thrilled to throw cold water on you. So if you’re feeling vulnerable, don’t give up on your passion, just don’t expose it to naysayers. Hang out with clearheaded, supportive people…people not afraid to give constructive suggestions, but who are on your side.

    My overactive inner critic was my main problem. I finally solved that by saying “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” It gets my ego out of the way. That doesn’t mean not doing my best…it means focusing on doing the work without being distracted by worry.

  4. Tony,

    Thanks for the link to one of my articles about giving feedback effectively.

    As I read your good post, I was reminded of something I often tell my conflict coaching clients: The person who’s feedback is highly critical — repeatedly — or belittling or harsh is telling you a whole lot more about themselves than they’re telling you about you.

  5. Ryan – Even constructive criticism can be hard to hear, but if it’s good, solid feedback, it’s worth it.

    Michel – You’re right. There’s this mix of competitiveness and camaraderie in the software world that helps you take your game to the next level. From my experience, those that just offer shallow criticism weren’t any good anyway 🙂

    Jean – Some people feel threatened by those who are willing to take a shot at their dreams. It makes their world seem a little smaller, and it scares the hell out of them.

    Tammy – Great point. I’ve never seen a confident person belittle someone else. That usually comes from insecurity.

  6. Wow does this hit home!!!!

    I recently quit my job to become a full time entrepreneur, and I’m doing it from rock bottom.

    Most people were critical. Fortunately, it ended at calling me crazy.

    However, some people really tried to make an effort to bring me down. They’d even logically reason it out. I usually deal with these people fine, but I just can’t avoid thinking it is affecting me subconsciously.

    Ahh well. Such is life. Great post.

  7. Brian – Actually, politeness is optional. Especially if the person is a tool 🙂

    Carl – When you make the leap to self employment, you shake people’s faith in the status quo. The best way for them to feel better is to attack. They’re not crazy, we’re the crazy ones 😉

  8. Ignore idiots and zealots, also known as pukers. They will rain on your parade because they have no parade of their own. – Jeffrey Gitomer

    Brilliant article Tony! We all need to learn to chew up the meat and spit out the bones!

  9. Well said!

    My inner critic often comes out when success is at its closest.

    A friend of mine used to say he judged how well an idea might succeed based upon the number of people who said he was crazy.

  10. Great Post Tony!

    I’m not sure what it’s like in other parts of the world, but in Australia our politicians have a propensity to do anything and everything to publicly humiliate, embarrass and criticise their political opponents. I’m no political analyst but as a bloke who votes, I care about what type of person the politician is (crazy I know) and when I see him or her up there doing their best to publicly destroy someone else, I lose respect for them.. not for the person they’re attacking.

    So next time you feel compelled to take aim at someone, maybe hold that thought and ask yourself what you need to change about yourself first.. or if you do decide to proceed, analyse your motives carefully, and honestly consider what you will achieve through your criticism.

  11. Jim – Love the quote. I’m a big Gitomer fan.

    Nathan – Your friend is a wise man.

    Craig – Those that have to attack others, rather than highlight their own strengths, tend to just reinforce that there are very few strengths to point out.

  12. I’d take it one step further…it’s good to seek out and surround yourself with the type of people that provide constructive criticism and help you to grow along the way. Everyone has something to learn, and if you’re seriously interested in being the best at whatever it is you do, you should be looking for and heeding that positive criticism.

  13. While I am a big inner critic, I always try to have a solution or a suggestion for growth when I criticize others’ work.

    Few things bother me than a rant about how something sucks that leaves everyone wondering if there is a better idea. Otherwise, I say, “shut up and do it yourself.”

  14. Tanner – Thanks.

    Zen – Excellent point. Being successful is in large part due to those you choose to surround yourself with.

    Jesse – Yep. “Don’t tell me what’s wrong. Tell me how to make it right.”

  15. You hit the nail directly on the head Zen. We’re always growing and learning, what better way to learn and grow than to surround yourself with those who constructively criticize?

    Great advice.

  16. I think there’s a nugget of truth in almost *all* criticism, whether it’s directed at me or coming from me, whether it’s put nicely or delivered with icy cold disdain. Criticism starts with *dissatisfaction*, but once you criticize or are criticized, both your ego and the other person’s are involved, and that’s where it can get ugly.

    You can do 3 things if you’re feeling critical: withhold it out of fear of bothering the other person (and lose the chance to point out what they might not know they could improve–i.e., just mind your own business), put it tactfully (best bet), or spit it out and hope WWW III doesn’t ensue. After seeing it from all sides of that coin, I’d suggest not even trying #3: it upsets everyone.

    You can do 4 things if you’re being criticized: ignore it to avoid issue #3 above (but that’s a bit cowardly unless you have a good reason for it), respond to it diplomatically (again best bet), respond defensively just to set the record straight, even if it’s clear you’re mad as hell, or make wild and exaggerated claims about the other person, hoping to make them look worse than you.

    Again #4 is the equivalent of WW III. And I usually respond to it in kind. By the time those exchanges are done I have enough material for a NY Times bestseller, but me and the other person do *not* have an answer to any of our original gripe(s).

    I guess what I’m trying to say is there’s only one good way to both deliver and accept criticism: tactfully, but I suspect few people do that all the time.

  17. When people contact me for help, or just to get started, I often ask them what they’ve been doing so far. This helps, because many times they’ve come to be thinking their approach is pretty good, and are talking with me merely to eliminate me as a helpful source.

    Once they realize they’re dealing with someone who truly knows what he’s doing, and isn’t there to belittle anyone, they open up a little more. That’s when I pop the question that elicits what’s really going on.

    So, you’ve been doing X for quite awhile now?

    You know the results my clients have been enjoying, how has the X approach been working for you?

    That’s usually when the real conversation begins.

  18. really appreciate this article.. well done
    I observe this happening constantly to pianists & performers particularly in classical music.
    There are many critics who belong to “they never was & the once was”..
    Instead of focusing on the positives, they needlessly nit pick on the most irrelevant aspect.
    I believe the person you need to please is the yourself. the inner critic…

Comments are closed.