To be a woman in business is to be a woman that is openly, and easily, criticized. Yes – this is to be expected for anyone in business. However, there’s an additional layer of situational pressure – the notion that a woman should always have a measured response – that is a suffocating addition that society has permitted as a dominant narrative in professional female-centric criticism.
FIrst off. You should always welcome constructive, professional, action-based feedback. It can be painful but it’s a necessary input for growth in your career (and any part of your life in general). The feedback that is given in earnest and with good intentions regarding your job performance should always be welcome.
But there is another kind of feedback that society permits women to experience easily which only exists in an effort to tear down. This feedback is always perpetrated by a group of people you will never please – your “Haters.” If you’re living your life, you’re bound to have Haters. Throughout my career, I’ve surprisingly come to understand that Haters are Your Elevators.
In fact, the criticism from Haters is the fastest way to get to the top of both your professional and personal life. This is due to a few reasons:
- Real-Time Evaluation – Yearly job performance reviews are helpful but infrequent. People speak freely casually but often filter feedback when they have a more formal opportunity to do so. The criticism from your Haters travels much quicker and often is more specific with concrete suggestions for the path forward. You can take the elevator and learn more from your Haters in 5 minutes than by taking the stairs through 5 years of scattered feedback – this is especially true when it comes to your management style.
- Perception = Reality – You’re going to find yourself on an island if your perception of dynamics is the sole contributor to your situational awareness. Islands are limiting in that there’s only so much room for growth. If you can actively seek to understand how your Haters perceive you it can be your greatest strength. This can be tricky because you must realize that you do not have to agree with your haters’ perceptions to understand them. When you know how you’re perceived, it can help you work with the personalities in the room to achieve the desired outcome while avoiding pitfalls that may be laid out for you before you even walk into a room. People spend years climbing the stairs backward trying to defend their perception. You can take the express lift to the Penthouse if you can understand, navigate and ultimately change negative perceptions. (Note: This only works if you’re staying authentic to who you are).
- Recognize Toxic Patterns? It’s Time to Move On – Sometimes, there’s no winning with a group of people, no matter how much you try. This can be for a multitude of reasons on any side and, because of that, people get stuck between floors trying to win an unwinnable race. Sometimes it’s unwinnable because of something you did. But most often, if an atmosphere is constantly hard and draining you for a consistent or extended period of time, then it’s just not the right environment for you. This can be tricky, as most situations can work for any length of time before they don’t. If you find that your Haters’ feedback is consistently stacked against you and you’ve genuinely put in the work to address your areas of needed improvement, it’s a sign that it’s time to move on to a new opportunity. This is the equivalent of getting stuck on the steps of a fire escape. You’ll note, that there aren’t even elevators built to accompany a fire escape. That’s because there’s no way “Up” when you’re in a no-win situation.
Knowing how hurtful it can be to be on the receiving end of unfair and malicious narratives, it’s important that we begin to carry ourselves in a way that minimizes the layer of perceptual awareness that is applied to women in the workplace.
When other peoples’ Haters come to you for an ear, if you choose to engage, do so in a way that encourages them to examine their behavior. Asking questions like: “How are you planning to let her know and how will you help her improve?” are solid ways to spin the dialogue to ensure a productive conversation that’s rooted in good intention.
Criticism from Haters is meant to harm but is actually one of your most powerful tools to navigate your career (and your life) And to all my Haters over the years: your feedback has been the most valuable resource to my growth and a contribution to my success to date.