Handling Criticism When It Hurts

Having grown up in rural Virginia I can relate to people who have dreams of success in the arts, but don’t have that much of a buy-in from circles of friends, family, and loved ones. The criticism you receive, though many times well-meaning, can be like a dagger to the heart or like a chalky choir wailing on an extra squeaky blackboard.

You need tools to help you survive the lack of core support that you may face from people you really care about. It can and often does hurt. The following are some bits of advice to help you navigate the hurling stones, clucking tongues, and dismissive postures from people you love or at least like a great deal of the time.

Don’t Bite Back

When criticized you may feel like biting back, especially if you don’t agree with what you hear. Resist the temptation to launch into a counter attack. Instead, ask questions to get them to be more specific or to clarify. You may ask a question or two to see if they picked up some things that you were going for with a specific song, your song set, your look, and so on. But resist the urge to bite back if something they say seems unfair or unjustly harsh.

Be Sympathetic

Put yourself in their position. Get a sense of where they’re coming from and see if that helps you better understand the feedback you’ve been given. Ask them to explain why they feel the way they feel about the music industry or even about your performance or image or craft. Remember that music triggers feelings, emotions, and memories. You might have performed a piece that struck a less than harmonious chord in some way. And, honestly, they may not be able to look past that friend or family member they’ve always known.

Make Peace + Insist

Sometimes you get negative comments from family members and friends who feel they have your best interests at heart. Perhaps they clearly don’t take you seriously, or don’t consider a singing or music-related career to be honorable or attainable goals to pursue. If a family member or friend keeps pressuring, embarrassing or saying hurtful things to you, pull them aside and let them know how it makes you feel. Affirm your love and care for them, but explain that your career choice is not going to be changed by their wishes. Let them know their criticism is hurting your relationship.

Disagree Calmly

Resist argument. State your position as necessary, but don’t engage in verbal fencing. You want advocates not adversaries. One day, you will win them over, right? Take time to let them express their views. Point out the things they say that you understand and see the point they’re making. You can also share something that you know will likely make them laugh if things feel they’re approaching the point of getting a little testy.

Admit When You’re Wrong

If you do lose it for a bit, catch yourself, and immediately apologize. Explain that your career is close to your heart and that sometimes your emotions get the best of you. When you admit to mistakes, it makes you more vulnerable and approachable and less threatening. If you disagree with what they’re saying, don’t go on the attack. Simply restate, reaffirm, or shed new light on your perspective.

Stand Your Common Ground

Emphasize points of agreement about your performance, craft, potential, passion, or career pursuit. Look for common ground or points of understanding with each thing that you recognize as an especially sensitive area for you and the family member or friend. Encourage questions about things they don’t understand.

If you want someone to listen to you, you must listen to them. So, don’t interrupt to correct, change the subject, or make an unwarranted implication of any kind. Show your respect by hearing what they have to say. Then, thank them for their comments and concerns.

Stay Focused For Success

Be polished, prepared, and professional in your music career pursuits. Your work doesn’t have to be perfect, but you must be pleased with what you present and engage. That helps you to firmly stand your ground when critiqued by an audience, local media, or family and friends. Don’t apologize, qualify, or justify what you do. Simply state your goals, your challenges, and share as much of your plan for success as you feel comfortable.

When You’re Called To Criticize Your Peers

Always stress the things you like about what another performer has done. Look for ways their performance, material, mix, and so on can be improved. Point out what’s working, what you liked and enjoyed. Be specific. Start your constructive criticism with the big things first like vocal quality, choice of material, image, and then, move on to things like the technical aspects of the venue, sight lines, song set chatter, and so on.

Strategic Critique

Point out any serious flubs or obvious lapses in quality, but also note any covers for the slips that you feel worked. Offer suggestions for how to improve. Don’t say things like, “you can do better.” Instead help them find a game plan for improving their range or tonal quality. Suggest songs that you feel are good choices for them now. Then suggest material that will challenge them and help them showcase qualities that you see that aren’t being used. And always recommend Mastery Mix, Singing Success, Brett Manning, and his trained associates.

What To Do With Criticism

Whether your critics are family members, friends, and loved ones – or – strangers, potential band members, and professional bloggers, weigh the feedback carefully but don’t let it weigh you down. Address any legitimate weaknesses, concerns, or possible changes to consider based on the feedback you’ve received, especially those things that have been voiced before by differing sources after other performances, career-related situations, or social settings. Otherwise, disregard those things that you really don’t agree with. When it comes to choices you make on the road to your success, the final judgment call is always yours.