How to Handle Critics

During my visit to Fresno State, I met with the Fresno Red Balloon Steering Committee. They are a wonderful group, filled with thoughtful, passionate, and committed individuals. We had a great set of conversations, one when I got to campus, and one after the launch event on Friday morning. They asked some very thoughtful questions that I’m not sure I answered very well on the spot. So in a slightly more reflective moment, I’ll try to respond again.

As a follow-up to the previous blog entry, I am going to answer a second question.  This question is “How do we handle critics and the nay-sayers?” Those folks exist, of course, on every campus. In fact, as faculty, we are trained to be critics. But it’s often unnerving to be on the receiving end of the criticism. Here are some simple ideas, most of which you have probably already thought of, for dealing with critics.

1. Listen Well
Our instinct is to ignore or blow off the critics. But I would urge you to listen well. They often have important things to say. Sometimes they are misinformed, which is always nice to know, as you can then work to correct the misperception. Sometimes they are right, in which case you need to listen to them to adjust your approach, your strategy, indeed your project. Sometimes, even if they object, they represent a substantial sentiment across campus, and knowing and understanding that sentiment means that you can work to address that concern.

2. Bring Them Into the Process
Sometimes critics are created by exclusion, leaving individuals with no role other than that of critic. Is there a way to engage them in the project in some meaningful way? Can they take on a leadership role? Can they “own” a part of the initiative?

3. Ignore Them
At some point, if steps 1 and 2 have been tried, it may be time to simply ignore the criticism. It doesn’t take the entire campus to make significant progress. Indeed, most of the change we see on campuses comes from a relatively small group of passionate, committed leaders. It doesn’t take 100%, or even 50% of a campus, to make change. Most of the time, the actual number of participants in any change process is quite small.


About George L Mehaffy

Vice President, Academic Leadership and Change at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU).
This entry was posted in George's Campus and Conference Visits, Red Balloon General Thoughts. Bookmark the permalink.

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