Last week we talked about taking constructive criticism like a champ because its purpose is to help you improve and succeed. What do you do when the person giving you feedback doesn’t have positive motives? How do you handle destructive criticism designed to disempower, destabilize, and destroy you?
When someone is attacking you, it is challenging to maintain your equilibrium. Since their goal is to upset you, the best thing is not to let on they have bothered you. This outward calm demeanor takes practice. But once you have mastered it, it is very powerful.
Never let them see you sweat.
Have a neutral expression with a slight smile and wide eyes. Practice this in a mirror. For me, sometimes just concentrating on my expression helps me keep my cool.
Take deep breaths, especially before you respond. This small pause gives you a moment to get your bearings.
Take a sip of water. I always go into a meeting with a bottle of water, especially if I know it’s going to be a tough one. Staying hydrated keeps your brain nimble and focused. Taking a sip of water when you need time to respond or calm down can help.
Take notes. Looking at your notebook instead of the speaker, deflects the attack, and makes you seem attentive at the same time. As an added bonus, you have a record of what was said if you need it in the future.
Leave the room as soon as possible.
Here are three instances where unfortunately you may encounter destructive criticism.
Who you choose to spend time with determines not only your career success, but your mental health. It is vital to notice when your friends do not wish you well. People who are constantly belittling you and making you feel bad about yourself under the guise of being helpful are not your friends. If you notice a negative pattern, let those people go and focus on building your cheer squad.
A Performance Review
Performance reviews are supposed to be meetings where managers acknowledge employees’ accomplishments and give concrete advice on ways to improve. Often they are the exact opposite with supervisors who are threatened by others’ skill and success acting with negative intent to stop promotions, tank careers, and fire subordinates. The best way to counteract this kind of attack is to come to the meeting with two documents.
1. An up to date accomplishments list which details what you have done, who you have helped (in and outside the company), and what the result was.
2. A description of your job that you have written, starting with your snappy personal logline. Be sure to include anything that is outside the scope of the “official” job description that you do.
As you go over these two documents, you may be able to take control of the meeting and mitigate the attack. Afterwards, send a quick recap with a positive spin to your manager and copy his boss so the higher ups know what you have been up to.
If the meeting was a surprise, follow up with an email of your accomplishments list and job description to your manger and her boss.
Finally, you must consider that a boss who would use a performance review in such a negative way is toxic. The chances are slim that she is is going to change her behavior. For your mental well being and your career, you have to decide how long you are going to put up with this negativity before you get a better job elsewhere.
A Story Meeting
In Hollywood story meetings the executives, producers, and directors give notes (feedback) to the writers. Even good story meetings with insightful notes are challenging for writers. It’s five minutes of people telling you how wonderful your script is and then five hours of the same people telling you everything that’s wrong with it and how to fix it. Ouch. Often story meetings are not fun, productive, or creative. Here are a couple of scenarios and how to handle them.
1. The ideas are bad. While the note is not good, maybe they are noticing a problem in the script. Ask a lot of questions to help the executive pinpoint their concerns. Once you have a better understanding of what the note actually is, pitch solutions. Sometimes the notes are just bad and will make the project worse. At that point you have to decide how much you like the project and how much you need the paycheck. It may be time to part ways citing creative differences.
2. They didn’t like your script at all. This is the worst kind of feeling to find out that your work didn’t hit the target. The best attitude is looking at it as a learning experience and taking what you can from the feedback to improve your writing. Also, this may be a sign that you are not a good fit with the project or filmmakers and it is time to move on.
When getting destructive feedback, recognize what is happening and work on remaining outwardly calm and not getting destabilized. Afterwards, make a plan for dealing with these people in the future. If it is a friend, consider distancing yourself. If it is a work relationship, it may be time to look for another job. Finally, in situations like these I always fall back on one of my favorite sayings “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” Remember there is only one you! Don’t let anyone dim your light.
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The best way to quickly improve is to get feedback. Businesses know this. Everybody from Amazon to Walgreens uses customer insights. I even got a survey from the Astros after I went to a game. But lots of people feel that getting feedback on yourself and your projects about as fun as a trip to the dentist.
What if you made feedback your friend and got excited about it, instead of dreading it? That’s my philosophy. I always want to be improving for my clients, my audience (you guys), and myself.
When you are a creator, feedback is important because it gives you perspective. You have lived with your (story, painting computer program) for so long that you can’t see the forest for the trees. A good critique can help you see the trees and even the spaces between them. It can point out weak spots that need to be improved. Feedback is the best way to find out what is working and what isn’t in your project.
Without feedback you can stagnate or get worse. Look at Empire Strikes Back versus The Phantom Menace. George Lucas collaborated with Lawrence Kasdan, who ended up writing the screenplay for Empire Strikes Back. It is many fans’ favorite Star Wars movie. Years later he showed the script of The Phantom Menace to no one. He wasn’t interested in getting story notes. As a result, the movie is terrible. I wonder what kind of film he would have made if he had had his old feedback crew of Lawrence Kasdan, Francis Ford Coppola, and Stephen Spielberg read the script? So next time you’re balking at having somebody read your stuff, ask yourself do I want to write the next Empire Strikes Back or the next Phantom Menace?
There are two kinds of feedback:
Constructive criticism that helps you improve and succeed.
Destructive criticism designed to disempower, destabilize, and destroy you.
How to take Constructive Feedback
Go in with a positive attitude. Be excited to hear what they have to say. Have an open mind.
Put your emotions aside and be present. I hate the advice not to take things personally because when it’s happening to you it is personal. Instead, make a conscious decision not to react emotionally while you’re getting the feedback. Save that reaction for when you are alone or decompressing with a good friend. If you’re too emotional in the moment, you may not hear some good advice.
Don’t be defensive. It’s okay to explain what you mean or give more information. But don’t dig in your heels and argue your point of view. Listening to the critique, does not mean that you are agreeing to it.
Be gracious. Practice having grace under fire. Even if you are getting way more negative suggestions then you were expecting, have a smile on your face and an open mind. Someone once told me I take feedback like a champ and I consider that a high compliment. Be a champ.
Ask a lot of questions. Use questions to clarify your critiquer’s points and get them to expand on their thinking.
Always end the meeting or phone call with a thank you. When appropriate, follow up and let them know what you implemented and how it’s going.
Which feedback do you try?
If you see that it will immediately bring improvement.
If it will clarify something that was confusing.
If you hear it more than once from different sources.
Which feedback do you ignore?
If it will change the intent and feel of a story.
If it doesn’t resonate with you.
If it doesn’t make sense.
I hope these tips make your next performance review or story meeting a more pleasant experience.
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Everyone wants to make more money. Traditionally, to win raises and promotions we work hard and hope somebody notices. But to stand out from the crowd, you have to be your own advocate, highlighting what you are doing. The simplest place to start is something most people miss, tracking what they’re working on and who they’re working with. You may think, why do I need to write down what I’m doing? I’m putting my blood, sweat, and tears into this assignment. I’m always going to remember this project. Well, the reality is five years from now, you’ll be putting your blood, sweat, and tears into something else and you won’t even remember the name of that thing and the people you did it with. Tracking you wins gives you momentum to keep winning.
Your Accomplishments List
When I started my career, my dad told me to write down my accomplishments and I have been doing it ever since. I began with everything that I had done at my summer job while it was still fresh in my mind. Then I added new projects and successes as they happened. I am so grateful that I developed this habit because years later there is no way I could remember everything I worked on, if I hadn’t written it down.
The other important thing to keep track of is who you’re working with. To this day I always write down everybody I worked with on every every project from assistants, executives, and creatives to agents and lawyers. As an added organizational tip, I also put this information in the notes section of my contacts. If I haven’t talked to somebody in a while, I have a reminder of when we were colleagues.
For creatives: Be sure to include, assistants and junior executives and nurture those relationships as their careers grow.
For corporate workers: Be sure to include the people inside your company you are working with, especially if they are in other departments.
Let’s Start Making Your List!
The first step, if you are starting your accomplishments list from scratch, is to write down every place you worked and everything you did there. Don’t try to think of things in order and don’t worry about getting people’s names or spelling right. Just write it all down free form as it comes to you. You can use your resume and your LinkedIn profile for reference. You may have to call some former colleagues to ask them details that you don’t remember. This is a wonderful reason to reach out to someone that you haven’t talked to you in a while.
Spend a few days brainstorming a few minutes at a time, instead of trying to do it all at once. When you feel like you have written everything down that you can think of, go back and put the information in chronological order, organizing it with any system you like. I am not a spreadsheet person I really do not like working with them, but lots of people do. I prefer lists written in Word. I suggest copying your list and organizing a second copy by category.
For creatives: In your second copy, list all your films, then books, etc.
For corporate workers: In your second copy, group projects by type, client, or maybe location, etc.
I think this a fun exercise. You will remember things you did that that you loved and haven’t thought about in a long time. You will remember people you really enjoyed working with that you haven’t talked to in a long time. And once you finish your list, you will realize you have done a bunch of cool stuff!
Bonus: Reach out to someone you have not spoken to in while and book a lunch.
Make It Measurable – Your Stats
The easiest way to boil down your accomplishments is to talk in numbers. Some professions rely on numbers more than others. For example, salespeople often have their yearly sales figures in their Linked In profile. People in finance can quote the billions of dollars of accounts they work on. These numbers tell the story of their accomplishments. But even if you’re not working in an industry that focuses on numbers, numbers are important part of what you do.
For creatives: How many movies have you worked on? Screenplays written? Projects produced? How many books have you sold?
For corporate workers: Look at each project on your list. Is there a way you can quantify your contribution? Did you bring in X dollars of new business? Did you increase revenue? What are your sales figures?
If you are a student or just getting started in your career, don’t be discouraged by this exercise. People will not expect you to have a long list. But you have done more than you think. If you are having trouble brainstorming, ask friends and family members for suggestions.
Make It Real – Your Results
Now go through your list and look at each accomplishment. What were the results from each thing on your list? Most importantly, how did you exceed expectations? As we talked about above, are there numbers you can mention? Did you come up with a new idea or process? Did you bring in a big new account?
Make It Pop – Your Kudos
What praise have you gotten from your clients, your colleagues, and your industry? Have you won any awards or been nominated for any? For some reason, people always downplay their awards. Don’t!
Next, start a kudos file in your email. Anytime a co-worker or a client compliments you or thanks you, file in in your kudos file. If someone compliments you verbally, write it down with the date. Your kudos file serves two important purposes. First, if you are having a bad day, read through your file. It will shift your mood instantly. Second, think of your kudos as your personal Yelp. You now have the social proof that good reviews provide. In job searches and interviews, your kudos are wonderful recommendations.
For creatives: You can use your kudos as testimonials on your website. Don’t forget to mention if your work has been in film festivals or if your book is a bestseller.
For corporate workers: Kudos are wonderful positive ammunition to use in performance reviews and in asking for a raise.
Hint: Don’t be afraid to ask for testimonials from clients and co-workers. I suggest asking for one to five sentences about their experience working with you on a particular project.
What to do With Your Killer Accomplishments?
You can use all or some of your list in a variety of ways:
Your accomplishments list helps you win clients, raises, and promotions because it succinctly communicates what you have been doing and how well you have been doing it. The traditional way to present this information is in an email/memo. Don’t rely on just a conversation to get across your accomplishments. Leave your manager or client with a piece of paper they can refer to. If you are working in more creative industry, you can be a little bit more unusual. Maybe you use an infographic or a PowerPoint presentation. Maybe you do something fun like make up a fake testimonial page. As always, when you are talking about yourself, you want to make the information interesting and memorable.
The Accomplishment Formula
What you Did + the Results backed up by your Stats + Kudos
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You hear through the grapevine that Deborah has been telling people that you aren’t smart enough to have written your latest article. Your heart races. What if people actually believe it? What if people stop reading your stuff?
I learned long ago that life is like high school and there will always be mean girls (and boys) with something hostile to say. There is a habit I practice to make the mean girls meaningless. When I learned this, it transformed my life.
What other people think about you is none of your business.
What does it mean? It means that you cannot control what other people think of you and so you should not spend your time worrying about it. If someone doesn’t like you, so what. There are plenty of people that do.
If you spend your time worrying about what other people think of you, it is crippling. It makes your self-esteem and your self-confidence so low that you are afraid to take any action. You’re not setting goals; you’re not learning or trying new things. So your life is not growing and expanding. This worry about what everyone thinks of you gets bigger with social media. People can be so nasty online. And no likes on your latest post feel just as bad as an attack. But ultimately since you cannot control people’s thoughts, the best thing to do is be the best version of yourself. Work on yourself and your dreams. Remember that no one is perfect. When you make a mistake that hurts someone’s feelings, apologize in the moment and move on.
What you can control is how you treat people. If you are nice, helpful, and positive, people will respond in kind. Making people feel good is a good operating principle for life.
People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
So what do you do when people are attacking you online with things that are unfair, untrue, and nasty?
The haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake. I shake it off, I shake it off.
Again, what she’s saying is you cannot control what other people are thinking, saying, or doing. Shaking it off, isn’t always easy. But keep your focus on the horizon and do not let internet trolls derail you. In the matter of online harassment, I suggest unfriend, unfollow, delete nasty comments, and turn it off. Maybe in extreme cases come off of that social media platform, either for a break or permanently. Online and in person discourse has gotten so incredibly nasty over the past few years that I am rarely on social media and it has helped my anxiety, focus, & sleep.
It’s a horrible feeling to be attacked online, and it’s even worse, I think, to know that people who know you are saying negative things about you behind your back. Gossip is especially upsetting if someone is going after your reputation with the aim of hurting you. You have to remember one very important thing. When people are bad mouthing others, they’re the ones that look terrible, not their target. Instead of hurting who they want, their constant gossip and negativity hurts themselves. Believe me; no one likes or trusts gossips.
While it may seem odd, the best thing to counter character assassination is usually silence. Because by trying to defend and explain, you will end up saying negative things about your detractor. Then you seem just as dirty and unlikable. Staying above the fray is the power position. The people that know you, like, love, and respect you, will continue to. And those that do fall for the story, will eventually find out it’s not true or even become a target themselves. The best way to protect your reputation is to focus on your own journey of success and creativity. When you shine, you’re going to wipe out whatever negative talk has been going around.
So remember whenever you start to worry, whenever you get upset about some negative comment, what other people think of you is none of your business. Once I started practicing this point of view, it really changed my life positively. I became more confident, more creative and happier. I wish the same for you.
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In life we have different levels of relationships. There are spouses, family members, and best friends, good friends, and work friends. Then there are the people you don’t like, but have to deal civilly with including sometimes family, neighbors (I’m thinking of a disastrous HOA meeting), and often work colleagues and bosses. It is important to recognize that we don’t deal with all of these groups in the same way.
Last week we talked about building your cheer squad with positive people. This group is who you celebrate your wins with and share your dreams.
A, B, C or D?
In Hollywood terms, let’s call them your A list. Then there are good friends, who you like, but are not quite as close too – the B list. The C list is other folks you like, but don’t see often and work friends. And finally there’s the D list, those people that you don’t like, but have to deal with. Always smile and be cordial, but never, ever tell the D list your good news or anything personal. They do not wish you well.
This discussion is not meant to be a downer or make you paranoid. Instead, I want to encourage you to not only build your core group of support, but to understand that there is power in recognizing where people fit into your list. And that it is smart not to share everything with everybody. People can always surprise you in both good and bad ways. This way I hope you can be more prepared.
Cheerleader or Debbie Downer?
Notice how people react not just to your good news, but to others’ good news. This is a huge clue to their character. Years ago I had a colleague whose wife got her dream job. I was more excited about it than he was. All he said was “Yeah, now we’re going to have to figure out child care.” Yikes! Psychologists have long known that it not just the good news, but how others react when we share it, that makes us feel excited and energized. Unfortunately, lots of people react negatively or make it about them or do both. If someone does something like this to you, don’t give them the opportunity to do it again.
T.D. Jakes’ Three Kinds of Friends
Pastor T.D. Jakes famously said there are three kinds of friends: confidantes, constituents, & comrades. He talks about knowing who you are dealing with and who to share your good news with. You can watch the inspiring video here. It’s one of my favorites.
1. Confidantes are for you. If you’re up, they’re up. If you’re down, they’re down. This is your cheer squad.
2. Constituents are not for you. They are for what you are for. These are people that can seem supportive, but never think that they on your A List. If they meet someone who can further their agenda, they will align with them to get what they want. It is easy to mistake a constituent for a confidante.
3. Comrades not for you, and they not for what you are for. They are for what you are against. As soon as you are no longer fighting a common enemy, they disappear. I’ve noticed a lot of work friends, if you have a bad boss, can fall into this category.
I hope you found this discussion helpful. Take a look at the people you surround yourself with. Where do they fit in? Are the confidantes, constituents, or comrades? Who is your cheer squad?
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I’ve always known that Robert’s Rules of Order are used to run a meeting, but I never thought about what that meant until a couple of weeks ago when I went to my first HOA meeting, which was a train wreck. It started with an invitation to the meeting in a giant office building with no mention of the room number and went downhill into hostility, eye rolling, and name calling. So I am boning up on Robert’s Rules of Order to be prepared not only for the next HOA meeting, but also other club meetings.
So what are Robert’s Rules of Order
They are a group of rules that were written in 1876 by Brigadier General Henry Robert III, after he was asked to run a meeting at his church and failed miserably. What Robert did, was to simplify the parliamentary rules that were used in the British Parliament, and those rules date all the way back to the ancient Greeks. These are rules about how to run a meeting, how to have debates, how to accomplish business, and how to get to keep things moving, all without resorting to name calling and letting everybody have a chance to speak. They are used in everything from the United States Congress to school board meetings and club meetings. Understanding Robert’s Rules of Order is a great thing to have in your arsenal when you’re going to a meeting and in your general life knowledge. What I like about this book is that it boils down Robert’s Rules of Order and shows real life examples of how they’re used. And it is short so you can read it in an afternoon. I will keep you posted on how the next HOA meeting goes. But in the meantime, I encourage anybody that’s involved in a club or attending any meeting planning to speak, to go knowing how to use the Rules. Now more than ever we need to know how to speak out and listen to others in the right way.
From the book:Robert’s Rules of Order can be relied on to establish a baseline of decorum, as well as a process for bringing issues to the floor, holding debate, and coming to a vote. Robert sets out not only basic principles involved in holding and running a productive meeting, but also the procedures that allow group members to make decisions and move forward. These principles and procedures let every member of the group be heard, propose ideas, and have his or her ideas and input treated fairly and respectfully. They also establish a procedure for selecting leaders, determining the size of a majority, and protecting the rights of the minority.
Fun Fact: There have been twelve editions of Robert’s Rules of Order. The most recent one was published in 2020.