on responding to criticism

By June 10, 2016 18 Comments

Good morning,

I welled up with tears earlier this week, as I read Brené Brown’s recent essay, “My response to Adam Grant’s New York Times Op/ED: Unless You’re Oprah, ‘Be Yourself’ Is Terrible Advice.”

I can honestly say I think I’m forever changed by it. And I believe so many of us can be helped by it.

Here’s why:

For years as I have worked with brilliant women, I have heard from them how their fears of criticism, of being told they are naive or don’t know what they are talking about, have kept them from saying the very important, culture-challenging things they have to say. I have related to these fears entirely. When I sit down to write, or get ready to speak, or want to stretch into addressing a new subject or a controversial matter in my work, I get gripped by those fears, too.

It’s no mystery why so many women have these fears. Most of us had early experiences in which we were told our ideals were naive, our ideas were silly. Many women still get told this in one way or another. And, as I’ve written about before, for the past few millenia, it wasn’t safe for women to do or say things that drew criticism. We didn’t have legal, financial, political, or other means to protect our safety if we challenged the status quo. Likability, social influence, doing what was approved of? These were primary survival strategies for us.

No wonder many of us still feel – at an instinctual level – like criticism could be life-threatening, unsafe, something we couldn’t recover from or fight back against. For most of our history, that was our reality.

For years now a central part of my work has been looking at this legacy of our relationship to criticism, and doing the inner work with women to help us become more comfortable with it.

This week in her essay, Brené Brown showed me something I’ll never forget: what it looks like for a woman to put forth an unapologetic, direct response to criticism of ideas that she believes in. To argue back the points she wanted to argue. To point out what had been, in her eyes, misconstrued and omitted. To do it so intelligently, and insightfully. To do it immediately, not after weeks of hemming and hawing or of consulting with dozens of people to get their approval on her next move. Instead, she published her response the very same day the other piece was written. That requires a kind of self-trust and comfort with improvisation and imperfection.

I thought about why I was stunned and electrified and move to tears reading her essay. I realized that in my very old, seeded-in-childhood fears of being publicly criticized around my ideas, I fail to remember that after the criticism there could still be a next moment, a next day, and next week. A time in which I can respond. I think the very idea of responding requires a sense of one’s power and agency that my inner little girl self doesn’t have when she thinks of moments of being criticized, ostracized or ridiculed for what she has to say.

The other thing that struck me was how smart and articulate Brené’s response was. It made so many wise points. I realized how I don’t remember that even after an experience of criticism, my intelligence and gifts will still be there to allow me to express what I want to say next. I picture a crumbling, retreating, weepy woman being there afterwards, but what if there could be a still smart, still able, even more full of conviction woman there instead? That’s what I felt in this essay.

And at the simplest level, Brené Brown has given me a strategy I’ll add to my menu of options of what to do when criticism or critique comes. Create a kickass response. Written, or spoken, or enacted.

Thanks, Brené. You can check out her post here.

And a few other fun updates from my life and work:

You can find some recent podcast episodes with the Insatiable podcast, here, and with Summer Innanen, here. Both look at Playing Big ideas in the context of body image, food and health issues.

The Chinese edition of Playing Big is out! Woo hoo!

And big thanks to Yelp for hosting a great Fireside Chat about Playing Big for women in technology.



Join the discussion 18 Comments

  • Krista says:

    Thank you <3

  • Adriana Devine says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. Your words from your experience as a reader amplify and add power to Dr. Brene Brown’s eminently wise, timely, and rock solid defense of her work. I shared her article on LinkedIn and I hope it’s read by everyone in my network.

  • Pam Consear says:

    Thanks for leading us to this discussion. I’ve been binge-watching Brene Brown interviews and talks recently, and I agree with everything you said about how she addressed the misrepresentation. She is such a powerful force in moving our culture FORWARD in emotional intelligence and true connection. Adam Grant’s article felt like a huge back-slide in that important work. I’m not surprised that Brene showed up the way she did. It’s her life’s work she’s defending, and no one knows the subject inside and out the way she does.

    She is a beacon for all of us — especially us women.

  • Melanie says:

    Thank you, Tara for sharing this. Your response has supported me in processing my own feelings about the article. I totally agree with you, Brene Brown’s response was clear and courageous. When I read the NY Times Ope Ed on Sunday I felt like I was in an alternate universe and struggled with whether to post a comment. I chose not to. Authenticity is a deeper self-awareness and responsibility to what one consciously wants to create. A compassionate-inquiry, a loving-kindness.

  • Tara: thank you so much for putting into words (and gorgeous ones at that) what I was feeling about this exchange. I was so flummoxed when I read Adam Grant’s piece that I just sat there, slack-jawed, and didn’t know how to articulate my own feeling of vulnerability. Brene’s response was a rallying cry for all women to own their voice, and you have perfectly captured why.

  • Donna Davis says:

    Hello Tara and friends:
    Thank you for sharing your deep feelings and guiding us to Dr. Brown’s response.
    While visiting LinkedIn to read her article, I scrolled down to another post written by a philosopher for and of the “real world”, Alain de Bouton.
    I think it is concise and beautifully stated, and worth sharing with you and all people who believe that compassion, vulnerability and grace are the hallmarks of the power to change and heal the world.
    Blessings to all,

  • Tara –

    I’m a book publishing professional who values the concepts in your book* and Brene Brown’s work and I’m responding in the context of all of the above on your blog because you were my entry point to this interesting meta argument:

    1. Yes, I loved Brene Brown’s level and thoughtful response to what felt clearly like…
    2. Adam Grant’s purposeful; unashamed; and very, very public bending of the context of her work (and other peoples’ **) to support his own argument, which is…
    3. Conveniently mounted against the popular concept of “authenticity,” which he blithely defines any ol’ which-way serves his argument, I suspect in order to…
    4. Provoke semantic, headache-inducing, and un-winnable internet discourse with best-selling, internet-savvy thinkers and those who comment on them.*** This effort will no doubt…
    5. Help Adam Grant become more known to the readers of the aforementioned, maybe go viral, and possibly sell more of his own books.****

    Valerie Peterson

    *I credit your book for helping me to be able to express this… and for my LOL at recognizing from Playing Big the (for lack of a better term) ballsy, guy-like way he interpreted other peoples’ work any ol’ which way to suit his purpose in A New York Times Op-Ed!!! My one NYTimes Op-Ed was about New Year’s traditions in other countries and I sat in the Rose Reading Room of the NYPL for two days plus a days calling foreign embassies to double check my interpretations! Yeesh!

    **The A.J. Jacobs 2007 article was about a social, no-filters, no-hold-back, truth experiment. Authenticity doesn’t mean you don’t have filters… but I don’t really want to join that argument…

    ***Guilty, now. Obviously.

    ****But not to me, because I didn’t find his arguments compelling or, for that matter… authentic.

  • And I’m trying to be okay with the typo – thanks, Tara 😉

  • Tere Insley says:

    You’re right about the authenticity article Tara …it’s great

  • Maria Bucci says:

    Dear Tara,

    Thank you so much for bringing attention to such an important subject. I had the pleasure of being able to become a certified facilitator through The Daring Way Program offered by Dr. Brown and I wholeheartedly agree with this message. I have provided several workshops over the years that have benefited so many of my clients. I appreciate all your diligence and dedication to women!

    Thank you again,

    Maria Bucci M.Ed.
    Licensed Professional Counselor
    Certified Facilitator

  • Sharon says:

    As inspiring as she is my cousin Shirl is struggling to get her first product out there, why? because although Authenticity (with a capital A) is clearly her driving force she hasn’t quite got the knack of setting boundaries (neither do I for that matter). Setting or planning boundaries, in the sense that Brene has counseled and seemingly demonstrated in her response to Grant’s criticism, is not easy for my cousin (and me). It seems boundaries are key to shepherding (I couldn’t think of a better word) our ideas but what do boundaries as a component of authenticity look like?

  • mt says:

    I missed Brené Brown’s essay, so thank you for bringing it to our attention! When I saw the subject line for your post, I wasn’t sure it would apply to me… but it does! I have been struggling for years, really, with feeling like I’ve *lost* my voice. Somehow going through grad school made me more fearful rather than less fearful, and now that I’m out of school and working and trying to make a life for myself, I want to recover the sense of self and conviction I once had. Maybe it will be different, but I don’t want to be scared to say what I think or share what I’m thinking about. Somehow the fear of criticism, gossip, and dismissal of who I am seeped into my marrow over the past several years, and while I didn’t realize it for a long time, I do now. I see it and feel it and want it to change. Thank you for reminding me that there is a community of women out there who share similar experiences and are working to make the world better for all of us!

  • Kate Wetherell says:

    This is an area that is right in my face currently so thanks for reminding us all, not only of how much we are criticized in our society, but how to handle criticism in a way that feels empowering for us. I personally think that criticism is so pervasive that we give up on ourselves by not responding as you say proactively – for me it feels like a daily grind, to be honest. The post that Brene referred to by Adam Grant who, unless I am mis-reading him, says that authenticity in the workplace is negatively correlated with success ie. promotion, sustained employment. Really? (sarcasm) Anyone who has been in the workplace actually knows this is the case already, because anyone who has tried to be authentic has been criticized and put down for bucking the “collective” voice and this is precisely why Brene has written her books – to suggest that this is one of the things that needs to change about the workplace (and society). Personally, I wish for a society where authenticity is not considered to be daring, courageous or any of those other adjectives, but just normal everyday occurrences . Thanks for bringing this up Tara because I had also missed the post and this issue of courage (I call it the warrior archetype) is so important at this time in the evolution of our consciousness.

  • Donna Davis says:

    Hello Tara and friends,

    I want to support Valerie strongly regarding her claim that the argument against Dr. Brown was strategically shifted from any sincere engagement of real issues to the nebulous area of “definition of terms.” In my experience, this tactic is almost inevitably a power-play intended purely to set-up, bait, provoke, and (if successful) humiliate the other party on a personal level–to the sheer aggrandizement of the attacker, who risks–and in fact has invested– NOTHING in any semblance of informed discussion. So right on, Valerie… but frankly, I’m still searching for the particular wisdom to cope with these kind of specious encounters.

  • Kaye says:

    This is so great Tara she acts as a role model for you.

  • Elle says:

    Adam Grant’s latest book is titled “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World”. I have not read the book.

    Based solely on the title, it appears Mr. Grant was simply looking for a cause that would qualify as ‘non-conformist’ and to support his book concept, and thus, sales. Even he admits that he was ‘searching for a new direction’ and asked seven colleagues and friends for suggestions. They all said some version of ‘Be Yourself’. What better way to be non-conformist than to disagree with everyone?

    Twisting definitions and taking concepts out of context then allowed Mr. Grant to argue his case, albeit with evidence he created.

    As a psychotherapist, I cringe at the damage he might have done to the multitude of readers who may have taken his ‘advice’ to heart. As a therapist, much of the suffering I witness in families, couples, and individuals, could have been avoided, or lessened tremendously, had they all been allowed and encouraged to be their true selves from early childhood and beyond.

    Much of individuals’ psychic angst stems from feeling they need to be something other than their true selves to be worthy of love and acceptance. This struggle plays out though every relationship encountered over a lifetime.

    In this vein, I would add, Mr. Grant, that it is not necessary for you to reject ‘authenticity’ in order to be significant, admired, liked and accepted. Ironically, we would most admire, accept, and love you when you are ‘being yourself’, conformist or not.

  • CHEN ZHANG says:

    I come here after reading the Chinese version ‘ playing big’. How great the book is! It courages me to face the anxieties happening in my late 25’s, in different dimensions, leads me to sight some new aspects of life thoughts and inspires me to search solutions through inner me rather than outside world. The book seems happen to be a starting point of new way living the life.
    For me,the book would work to my close female friends no matter nationalities, so I recommended it to friends of Bulgaria and Italy! Really appreciate the book and feel grateful had saw it in a book shop once.

    Love the saying: Get used to wins and losses, prais and pans, getting a call back and being ignored.

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