How To Face Your Harshest Critics

Can you relate to this? A major project has fallen behind schedule. It is way over-budget, morale has collapsed, and your leadership is being questioned. It’s got real nasty. It’s your fault. They’re pointing the finger at you. What should you do?

If the criticism is from outside the organization, then define the ground rules for your Communications Plan. Identify who is responsible for what type of communication, how it will be delivered and what messages you want to convey. The benefit of a cohesive Communications Plan is the message coming from all staff will be consistent and ensure that your core values are communicated effectively.

How to Deal with Critics Within Your Organization

Recognize that the criticism leveled against you is a problem that must be resolved. You can’t wish it away regardless of how unfair it may seem. But, where do you start? Here’s an idea. Scan through the newspaper and see how Obama, Hilary Clinton and other prominent politicians handle their critics.


  • They’ve been trained to handle criticism.
  • They’ve spent thousands of hours learning how to argue their points, assert their opinion and
  • They know (if they’re good) how to press people’s buttons and win over their harshest critics.

Maybe you don’t care for Clinton. It doesn’t matter. Put your feeling aside for ten minutes. Look at this as an experiment; observe as much as you can.

Obama ran into rocky waters recently with his healthcare reforms. The honeymoon period is well over; the knives were out. Let’s look at how he dealt with his critics. He had three options: send out a PR handler to deal with the press, arrange a state visit abroad, or face it head on. Guess which one he chose?

  • Turn Up – Stand your ground. Turning up shows your opponents that you’re ready to take them on. Your first task is to get the situation under control. Be pro-active. Arrange a meeting. Set the time, place and agenda.
  • Be Open – Circulate an agenda and emphasize that ANY questions can be asked. Remember, they’re going to do this anyway but you can preempt this by stressing your openness and commitment to dialogue. Obama invited the press to video tape his meetings. This forced his opponents to behave cordially on camera and to choose their words more carefully.
  • Stay Calm – When they try to rile you, as they will, rise about it. Breathe deeply. The louder they shout, the quieter you respond. Practice ‘arguing’ with trusted friends, if possible. See it as a ‘performance’.
  • Admit Your Imperfections – A small joke at your own expense is a great way to deflect criticism. No one is perfect. Remind them of past successes (in a casual, modest way) and how you (and your team) has worked to address the critical issues. Scan your notes occasionally; try to avoid reading your copy line by line.
  • Don’t Get Defensive – This is where most people get caught. Wily operators know how to put others on the back foot, for example, by quoting something out of context and then asking for ‘clarification’. Proceed with caution, folks. Avoid defending your decisions; it makes you sound guilty.
  • Criticize Your Opponents – Your opponents are not perfect, either. Find ways to highlight their short-comings but don’t get personal or sound petty. Be firm. Speak with confidence, don’t stammer or read from your notes. Look directly at your detractors and demand that they respond to your questions. This takes the heat off you, at least for a while.
  • Remember to Smile – Don’t fidget with your clothes, pull at your sleeves, or chew on your pen. Breathe slowly. Smile occasionally but don’t smirk. It looks juvenile. Also, don’t clench your hands. Tension makes you sweat, which is never a good sign. Remind yourself: this will be over in less than an hour. Stay calm, smile, and relax.
  • Engage – Asking for questions is another way to deflect negative attention. You can ‘up the ante’ by asking specific people if they have questions, especially if you think they are behind the back-biting. Stay calm. Listen very carefully. Then respond as politely as possibly.

…and, of course, thank them for asking.

Showing your face ensures you get your side of the story across. Putting your best foot forward sends out a positive message to your family, staff, and supporters, all of whom look to you for direction. And, by standing up to your opponents, you demonstrate that you have what it takes to lead.

What are your thoughts?