How to Respond to Criticism From Authorities in Your Field

The process of building any skill ends prematurely for the majority of the people you know.

People in all facets of life grow more skilled as their time performing varying tasks progresses and demands more out of them. They all come into contact with common barriers on that path. Though a few have come close, nobody yet knows what absolute mastery over any skill looks and feels like. People either quit or keep going. 

The Universal Process of Being Criticized by the More Experienced

Some take guitar lessons and go on to play in front of small crowds. Others take boxing lessons and get a few amateur bouts under their belt. The rest yearn to contribute to the professional world; going on to earn certifications and amass a series of accomplishments to cite on their resume. 

Continuing to follow the path of building any specific skill in life introduces you to universal barriers that most encounter on that path. 

Initial barriers are things like the impostor syndrome, and panic attacks in preparing for your performances of skills. As you continue to grow more skilled, you may begin understanding just how little you know about a subject, and just how detail oriented the more skilled ones are. 

You’ll then keep improving. 

As you begin to stand out in skill, you’ll attract the gazes of the unskilled. They’ll first begin to show interest, then they’ll have no choice but to respect the skill you’ve devoted so much effort into building. 

You’ll first bask in that attention, and then grow used to it. Getting used to the attention your developed skills garner is a prerequisite to remaining detail oriented.  

In growing used to unskilled heads turning with their ears perked up, you’ll also notice side eyed stares emanating from skilled individuals in your domain. This phase of skill building will garner the interest of those who’ve already performed on the same stage you’re on. They’ll be authorities in your field; the bigger fish. 

At this point you’ll come in contact with another common barrier to skill building: the judgement of those more skilled than you in a specific domain. What you’ll also notice, is that criticism from those individuals will sting more than when it comes from the unskilled. 

This article is about the common tribulation of having your skills judged by authorities in your field. 

Your Direct Push-backs Will Seldom Pan Out

The individuals who have a richer track record in your field will possess inherent advantages in their attempts to criticize you. They’ll likely have more supporters of their work than you do of yours, and their authority in the subject will be acknowledged and respected by most who look on. 

The witnesses to such an authoritative individual’s critiques will understand the weight behind their words. They’d know the pain critiques from an authority figure in your field are bound to cause, and will understand you to be in a rather helpless position at that point. 

The likelihood of witnesses thinking that an authoritative figure has misunderstood your work or gotten something wrong in their analysis will be low. Even though you may believe there to be competitive feelings backing that authoritative figure’s criticisms of you, you’d be attempting to claw out of an inherent disadvantage of public perception. 

Challenging an authoritative figure’s criticisms of your work introduces a few pitfalls for you to consider: 

  1. It takes more energy for you to change the momentum of the tide of public perception than it does for them. Authority is an effective swayer of public opinions.  
  2. If malicious intents to demean you do in fact exist, you’d still need to be attuned to the facts at hand. You wouldn’t be able to prove their malicious intentions without first factually proving them wrong on their critique (which will be difficult to do). 
  3. Supporters of your work are allergic to weakness. Reactions which render you to be weak in the face of criticism are the most susceptible to turning over fans of your work. The authoritative figure in such a scenario exacerbates these feelings because your fans will be defending their own reputations. It is a big ask for your supporters to oppose someone who is more experienced and knowledgeable than you in the field.  

Internalize Their Criticism Without Sending Anything Back Their Way

A major first step for you to take will be to authentically internalize their critiques. Let go of the desire to counter the points to their critiques. Simply listen and accept the pointers they provide. 

Though you may feel there to be malicious intentions behind their critiques (going after the up and comer, maintaining their relevance, etc.) it is best to sit on that hypothesis. The time to call out their mistakes would be a bad one if you were to do it as you, yourself, are being criticized. Any rebuttals from your end will be too easy to pin to being emotionally hurt due to their critiques. 

Your goal, especially in a case when a more authoritative and senior individual criticizes you, should be to come out of the exchange more respected than going into it. Respect in this case, is easiest to earn by seriously considering what they tell you, internalizing the lessons, agreeing, and ending it at that. 

Show yourself to be a good student in a manner which keeps attention on yourself for as short a time as possible. By being a neutral entity during the process of being criticized, you ensure the collective gaze to be more inclined to focus on the one delivering the criticism. 

If You Feel There to Be Malice Behind the Critique

Your act of being accepting and neutral in your reception of criticism will be the best thing you can do to highlight any malice coming from the more authoritative individual. 

Though sad to believe, certain individuals aren’t content with their critiques being simply accepted and moved on from. They yearn to see the effects of their critiques in the short term (whether that be causing you pain or damaging your reputation).

By being neutral and accepting of their initial critiques, you’ll set the stage for them to follow their desire to inflict pain if that’s a goal of theirs. Rather than reacting emotionally and allowing your reaction to be the new center of attention, set the center stage for them. 

The best case scenario in such a circumstance is you accepting criticism, learning from it, gaining the respect of showing that you’re a good student, and everyone moving on from the exchange. 

The worst case, would be for the person critiquing you to continue poking and prodding. In doing so, they’d further highlight the malicious intentions behind their act of critiquing you. Those intentions will be on center stage and easier to point out and notice. 

A Networking Opportunity

Navigating the dynamic between yourself and more experienced people in your field is an important test of your communications skills. Undergoing adversity is an opportunity to show your potential supporters of your ability to remain gathered. Since the more experienced would likely bring eyeballs to their attempts at criticizing your work, understand the opportunity you have in gaining fans of your work in such a circumstance. 

Passing the test this bout of adversity supplies also allows you to cultivate positive communications with other more experienced individuals. Though it may not seem to be so, your handling of criticism can encourage other authoritative individuals to open up communication channels with you. Even if those communication channels are kicked off with a pointer or critique, they have an ability to grow into something that’s more beneficial to you. 

For the prospective advantages of developing a wider network, ensure that your respect for the more experienced in your field is heard and felt. 

Doing so will simply lower any barriers to critiquing you that other experienced people in your field feel, as the simple reward of being respected would fuel their desire to express critiques. Essentially, you’d make it known that you reward the more experienced giving you pointers by doing your part in improving their reputation. 

Expressing your respect for the more experienced involves thanking them for taking the time to give you pointers, and citing their experience in your acceptance of their pointers and advice

There is another perk to being overtly respectful of the more experienced even when they critique you. The people who go on to critique you in the future will understand you to not be someone who pushes back. They’ll thereby be less rigid in the expression of their critique by not anticipating a harsh response from you. Instead they may be more lenient due to knowing that you’ll likely accept the criticism and even thank them for taking the time to dish it out. 

All This Sets the Stage for Your Own Inquiries

By coming to you with a critique, the authoritative individual would have been the one to establish a communication channel with you. 

You may not have agreed with their criticism and may even possess points which disprove their assumptions. Your act of keeping quiet and thanking them for their time however, would widen your communication channel with them. 

At this stage, you’ll establish yourself as a friendly entity who poses no threat in the form of angry responses or attributions of malice to their critiques. It’s at this time that you’d be able to calmly present reasons for the things they criticized by asking them detailed questions about their analysis of your work. 

This is not a time to label them wrong, just an opportunity to iron out areas of their critique that don’t make sense to you. Simply dig in further if you wish to understand if their critique is in fact legitimate. 

Operate with a tone of being the student in the interaction. Inquire less than you listen, and allow them to voice certain assumptions without challenging them on each one. 

This phase in the process will help you further understand whether their initial critique was valid by throwing some questions at them. You can either discover that they didn’t think the context of their critique through enough, or find out that they indeed are right in their analysis of your work. Either way, you’ll be at peace without needing to be harsh and rigid in your communications with them. 


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Disclaimer of Opinion: This article is presented only as opinion. It does not make any scientific, factual, or legal claims. Please critically analyze all claims made and independently decide on its validity.