Criticism can be turned into a constructive force

Your high school counselor who said, "I wouldn't recommend college. I don't think someone with your I.Q. could handle it."...

A boss, who told you, "You don't have enough talent to make it in this field..."

A peer who steals your ideas and gets all the credit...

Maybe you have someone like this in your past. Your stomach churns every time you think about these people. Their words ring in your ears and their actions play over and over in your mind's video. They can be your worst nemesis and grind your self-confidence to dust. But there is something else they can be, and that's a good enemy.

I remember reading something a long time ago about Ben Franklin extolling the virtue of having a good enemy. At the time, I only dimly realized what he meant. Since then, I've come to realize that an enemy is not always a bad thing.

Sometimes it makes us say, "If he can do that, I can do it better!" For some people a little pilot light flicks on deep in our internal furnace. It starts to heat up our juices and gives us a head of steam that propels us toward that goal, just to prove them wrong. For instance, a television reporter I know was told early in her career, "With a personality like yours, you'll never make it in journalism." Years later, she was the reporter who broke one of the biggest crime cases in America. While she was sitting on the set of the "Today Show", she flashed back to that moment, with a self-satisfied grin, just before the cameras were about to roll.

Competitive enemies make us think. They are a constant bruise to our ego. They make us angry. They make us act.

How do you use an enemy to create a motivational spark? Here are some tips:

·        Discredit the critic in your own mind. Usually it's an authority figure who has the power to deliver a blow like this. To blunt the effects, find flaws in the credibility of the critic. For instance, the reporter fantasized that her boss disliked her because she reminded him of his ex-wife. This helped her to see him as a real person with flaws, rather than an authority figure who could possibly be right.

·        Turn your feelings outward instead of inward. Instead of being hurt and depressed, get angry. Then get busy. Often, our first reaction is to internalize the criticism and believe it. A better strategy is to say, "Wait a minute! Who does she think she is? She doesn't know what she's talking about! I'll show her!"

·        Don't get even, get what you want. I have a framed needlepoint sign that I keep in a prominent place. It reads, "Living well is the best revenge." Whenever I feel spiteful or envious or vengeful, that phrase helps me shake it off and refocus my energy more productively. Expending energy on revenge ends up hurting you more than the other person. Use it to wake up your competitive spirit to go get what you want.

·        Realize that a guilty conscience could be at the heart of your anger or depression. In other words, it may be a result of knowing deep in your heart that you haven't been doing the best that you could. For instance, if you think your peer is a boot-licking weasel but he gave a better presentation than you did, stop finding reasons to fault him and admit it was just the kick in the butt you needed.

·        In the end, do it for yourself. Although a good enemy can be the thorn in your side to spur you on, it should eventually fade away as your primary motivator. The good things that come from improving yourself, trying harder and reaching your goals create a passionate flame that makes you forget (almost) the little spark that started it all.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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