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“If Benjamin Franklin had picked someone to teach the lessons in self-mastery that he used in his life, he would have picked Bob Burg.”

~ Vic Johnson, Founder AsAManThinketh.net

3 Reasons For Answering Your Critics

January 3rd, 2013 by Bob Burg

Martin Luther King Jr.In his draft of an excellent, soon-to-be-released book on leadership, Pat Sullivan, a long-time and hugely successful university coach and administrator, raised a very interesting point regarding handling critics and their criticism.

He referred to Dr. Martin Luther King’s great insight into this topic at the beginning of his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, written in response to eight white clergymen who criticized his involvement in the Birmingham Campaign:

“Seldom, if ever, do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all of the criticisms that cross my desk…I would have no time for constructive work.”

A marvelous insight. And, as leaders and influencers, we will have critics.

Should we answer them? Like most things, I think it depends. We certainly cannot respond every time or we would indeed fall into the trap pointed out by Dr. King. At the same time, never responding would be counterproductive, as well. Utilizing discernment is important.

The following three reasons would seem to indicate the proper time to respond:

  1. The critic has a point and the criticism is valid (it takes humility to recognize this).
  2. Even if the critic is wrong and the criticism not valid, it might be a question that many others have. So, answering in terms of clarification could be very important.
  3. Answering the critic and criticism — valid or not — is an opportunity to teach others how a leader/influencer handles criticism. This can serve both as a teaching lesson to others as well as strengthen the credibility and influence of the leader.

Have I left anything out? How do you deal with the critics? Do you feel that leaders who don’t care at all about the critics are more effective than those who do? Or, are they less effective?

Of note: At the conclusion of the above quote by Dr. King, he wrote, “But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I would like to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.”

Wow…What a leader!

38 Responses to “3 Reasons For Answering Your Critics”
  1. Bruno Coelho said at 8:29 am on


    Those are really three excellent reasons to answer our critics.

    We should also be always aware of the real reason behind our *need* to answer the critics.

    Are we answering because we feel that our EGO is hurt? Then we’re not answering them… we’re reacting to them, like Zig would say! If we engage them from this unbalanced state, the chances are incredible high that soon we will be arguing about *how* we’re talking *to* each other, instead of arguing about *what* we’re talking *with* each other.

    Another thing that I believe we should remember is where are the critics coming from?
    Are they coming from the ones you serve (your audience / your customers / your employees)?
    If that’s the case, then it’s a great opportunity to eat our breakfast, like Ken Blanchard says: “Feedback is the breakfast of champions”. And it’s also a great way to review the way we’re serving them as their leaders: are we managing their expectations right? Are we making sure they know what their goals are? Are we taking care of their aptitude and attitude for achieving those goals? Are we setting an example for them to model and follow?

    If the critics’ voices are coming from your competition, then what they’re complaining about? Are we using unfair or unethical tactics? If we are then shame on us! The five most powerful words in business and life, according to Harvey Mackay are: T. R. U. S. T – TRUST! Engaging in such behavior is a sure way to break our customers and our employees trust because sooner or later they’ll think: “If he does this to them… it’s a matter of time until he does it to me!”

    However, if they’re complaining because we’re following the Go-Giver’s mindset of giving more in value than we take in money… Well, I guess that’s a great way to drive our competition and our critics crazy while we create raving fans on our journey to change the World!

    Thank you once again Bob for sharing this questions and insights with us!

  2. Blake said at 8:32 am on

    Absolutely brilliant post! Too often people dismiss constructive feedback. Many often dismiss & reject experienced colleagues or dear friends whose insight into them is both an offer of warning & wisdom. Most often these people have earned the right to speak their mind. Immature persons on the receiving end destroy relationships over “hurt feelings” or an adolescent belief that business colleagues & friends should see them in a light of perfection–what the medical or psychology field would label a colored view.

    Growth occurs from truth. The only question is how fast are we willing to let go & grow? Those ready to grow face fears & truths. They offer apology, seek clarification or provide forgiveness. The absolute truth is that people who risk to speak their professional or personal opinion to you are the ones who actually care about you. The other 4000 FB friends and followers don’t truly care…

    The critic sees your brilliance, but says these minor areas of human frailty ARE fixable and will help you become even greater in your goals… To the brave critic who risks an opinion after earning the right via relational time to speak, the dragons & I salute you!

  3. Bob Burg said at 8:33 am on

    Bruno: As always, terrific insights, my friend. Thank you for sharing with us!

  4. Sometimes a critic can turn into your biggest advocate if they feel like they’ve been heard, recognized and had a positive impact on you. Because there are people who criticize not to be mean, but because they think things could (or should) be better.

    Do you think that’s what Dr. King was aiming for when he said, “But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and your criticisms are sincerely set forth…”?

  5. Bob Burg said at 9:41 am on

    Blake: Thank you. Very profound insights. I do believe that aside from the benevolent critics there are those who fall into an opposite category. And, sometimes, they need to be answered, as well. And, sometimes not, depending upon the circumstances. Indeed, though…as you wrote, when one simply dismisses critique and feedback out of hand, they are depriving themselves of the chance to grow. Thank you so much for sharing with us!

  6. Bob Burg said at 9:44 am on

    Beth: As always, terrific insights. And, how true that – when handled correctly – critics can indeed become your most ardent advocates and supporters. Very congruent with the Talmudic saying, “Who is mighty? That person who can control their own emotions and make, of an enemy, a friend.” Dr. King’s response – including that final statement – was quite brilliant. Regardless of what he really felt (and who but Dr. King would actually know that) he handled it with such tact and diplomacy, it’s difficult to believe that anyone would not have felt complimented and accepted by that statement. Thank you for sharing with us, Beth!

  7. Rick Schmid said at 9:58 am on

    My friend’s dad once managed a factory where he had to lay off some workers. One of the laid off workers walked into his office and slapped him in the face. (How about that for criticism!) My friends dad then proceeded to explain to the violent critic why he made the decision he did: he showed him the numbers and why it was impossible for him to keep the employees he laid off. The answer to the “critic” was so convincing that the “critic” gave my friends dad a good handshake and wished him well.

  8. Bob Burg said at 10:12 am on

    Rick: What a powerful story. Your friend’s Dad deserves a lot of credit for keeping his cool. And, for his wisdom. Referring to the Talmudic saying shared after Beth’s comment (regarding “Who is mighty?”)…I can’t think of any better example than the one you shared with us!!

  9. Geneva said at 11:19 am on

    I’ve often heard this, “Criticism is the death gargle of a non achiever.” It is also said that a critic is your greatest cheerleader because when you succeed, it gives them hope that they too can succeed. It’s not easy to answer some critics. What to say, how much to say, when to ignore, etc. This post is exactly what I needed to begin my New Year! Just yesterday I had a situation to diffuse. Not sure I handled it correctly, but I will draw from your suggestions beginning TODAY!

    Thanks Bob & Happy New Year!

  10. Bob Burg said at 11:23 am on

    Geneva: Thank you. You bring up some excellent points. And, it isn’t always an all-or-nothing situation, which makes each situation an individual one, though hopefully made a bit easier via some guiding principles. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Knowing you, you handled yesterday’s situation much better than you think! 🙂 Thank you for sharing. Happy New Year to you, as well!

  11. Bruno Coelho said at 11:44 am on

    P.S: I just saw this presentation on Twitter made by a Windows 8 critic! He made some strong points there… I haven’t tried Windows 8 yet…


  12. Lene Jytte Hansen said at 1:34 pm on

    This is a wonderful point Bob!!! AND DO I ADMIRE YOUR SKILLS WITH THAT – YOU BET I DO!!!! I Think you are a MASTER 🙂
    I agree it’s important to respond to comments. That definately ADDS VALUE.
    NOT answerring comments leaves an unfinished communication cycle, and here I respect you highly. Even just a Thank’s or a smilie can make the world of difference. I gues we all know how it feels to be ignored, and that is an awful feeling, like telling the other person they are not worthy of an answer. You have to be either pretty persistent or highly elevated mentally to be able to keep being ignored, and usually they will stop listening, because no one listens back.
    And a communication have to be pretty bad off, if we cannot learn something from it – at least it tells a lot about the person communicating, that gives you the possibility to know what you are dealing with. Usually criticism have a deeper reason.
    The HUGE difference is how you deal wiith it.
    One quote I saw today springs in mind: “How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.” – Wayne Dyer – SO you can actually learn a lot about yourself by the way you react to criticism.
    I love this topic
    Thank’s Bob and HUGS

  13. Bob Burg said at 2:24 pm on

    Lene: You make some very important points, indeed. And, you are a shining example of a person who is always kind and encouraging. Thank you, my friend. HUGS back!

  14. Lene Jytte Hansen said at 2:40 pm on

    Thank’s 🙂

  15. Lynda White said at 3:30 pm on

    I usually ignore criticism unless it could potentially damage mine or someone else’s reputation. Although it’s hard. VERY hard. 😉

  16. Bob Burg said at 3:33 pm on

    Lynda: That’s certainly an option. And, you’re right…it can be very hard to do! 🙂

  17. Gymbeaux said at 4:09 pm on

    Mr. B,

    I particularly like the quote, “Never wrestle (fight) with pigs! You both get dirty and the pig loves it!” George Bernard Shaw (and others).

    Some people simply are not happy unless they can find fault with you.


  18. Bob Burg said at 4:29 pm on

    Gymbeaux: There are indeed some people you are never going to please. When that is the case, best – if possible – to simply ignore them. However, there are those times when we must also consider who else is paying attention to the conversation. Definitely, good judgement is called for either way. Thank you for sharing with us, my friend!

  19. I agree there is a Place and Time for everything… And Addressing SOME of the more critical ones are Key to showing how WE handle such things and What is being said can Something, Someone needed to hear in that very moment… We are all teachers for each other…

    It also shows our Humility, Humanness etc…
    It is important as a Mentor and or Leader to show ALL Sides of us…
    It makes us Human and we are all Humans after all that occasionally might
    get frustrated, get criticized, etc… and what a better example can we show
    others in how we Choose to handle them…

    Thanks for another fun, informative blog post…

  20. Bob Burg said at 5:29 pm on

    Carly: Thank you for your always-insightful comments! Appreciate you sharing with us!

  21. Christie Ellis said at 10:30 pm on

    It is can be hard to hold back and not take things personally, especially if the critic seems to have missed the entire point of your teaching, writing or what have you. I appreciate all you have done to help me learn how to handle the nay-sayers and be more constructive in my responses to any criticism:)

  22. Bob Burg said at 6:57 am on

    Christie: Thank you. And, I agree; as bloggers (and with your weekly videocast) we both have experienced that and it’s frustrating indeed. That’s where reasons 2 and 3 both come into play, I believe. Yes, did I mention the word, “frustrating?” LOL. Thank you for sharing with us!

  23. Pamela McBride said at 12:51 pm on

    The other day, I was wondering how does one handle harsh criticism, gossip, slander, etc. I have a loved one that has been hurt by cruel speaking. Not misunderstanding. It’s the deliberate purpose of trying to destroy this person’s life. So, when I saw this subject “3 Reasons…” I was curious. Maybe there could be some help here and there is. I love so many of the comments! Excellent!!! Something I can grab hold of and share with this precious child.

    In the past, in the same type situation, I sat in my purpose, and did not respond at all, because it was like wild-fire and could not be stopped by my words…my response. My only response was to live the way I am in order that those who knew me would not believe the bad stuff.

    There are times when that is all one can do. Live their gifts, purpose, character, etc…EVEN when it can cause damage…even death. Sometimes, there is no other choice but to be in your purpose. Look at Joseph in the Bible. How long did it take him to answer his harshest critics? And what did he finally say? “Do not fear…” Now, that was living in a purpose no matter what. Wonderful lesson in that old, ageless story.

    The person I speak about in the beginning of this note? I’ve asked her to start writing a book…to have the truth out there…and who knows, that might be her purpose, because others might want to know the lessons in her life. To show how triumph happens when someone tries to live out a cruel purpose that begins with this, “I promise you. I will do everything in my power to destroy you. You won’t be able to hold your head up in this town by the time I’m through with you.”

    Many people have lived out their purpose in trying situations even when it cost them everything. Thank goodness, most of us can live out our purpose and it not cost us our lives.

    But to NOT live in your purpose? To let criticism stop you from your purpose? That, too, will cost your life, just in a different way.

    Thank you for all of this, Bob. I love some of these comments. Enough here to give strength to one person that is in a situation that most of us cannot even imagine.

    Love and blessings to all,

  24. Bob Burg said at 12:55 pm on

    Pamela: I’m so very sorry to hear about this. What a terrible thing to have to go through. Unfortunately, this is not as rare a story as we might imagine. We live in a world that includes some very deranged and irrational people. Please know that you have my thoughts and prayers that this gets resolved in a manner beneficial to you and to those you love.

  25. Pamela McBride said at 1:35 pm on

    Thank you, Bob,

    Your thoughts and prayers are appreciated so much.
    I couldn’t help think about your book regarding “Gossip”…

    Don’t we wish we could stop the insanity of it?

  26. Bob Burg said at 1:36 pm on

    Yes, we definitely wish that!

  27. Mike said at 7:25 pm on

    Bob, There is a company that has been around for more than 30 years. The company was started by a man that felt there was a need for change in the industry. It was personal, and he was a man with a vision and a mission.

    To say his business model disrupted the status quo would be an understatement.

    Many of the critics were coming from people and companies within the industry. As his business grew, so did the number of critics.

    Bob, when you stated: “Even if the critic is wrong and the criticism not valid, it might be a question that many others have. So, answering in terms of clarification could be very important.”

    I don’t know if this was the reason the company answered the critics, but I can say that I noticed the positive impact, and greater acceptance in the market by the consumers/clients when the company chose to address the matter.

    Time is valuable and limited. I believe it is important to evaluate, define, and determine which of the criticisms should be answered, and which should be ignored.

    As a good friend of mine always reminds me: “Pick your battles wisely.” Easy for him to say 🙂

    A side note: Today, this company is now the largest of its kind, and many of its critics are no longer in business.

  28. Skip Prichard said at 12:52 am on

    Such a good topic!

    I think the source of the criticism also plays a huge role in how we receive it. If it’s someone close to us, we react differently. If we are criticized by someone we admire greatly, that may cause a different reaction. How much we respect the critic matters.

    MLK is a great example, and he was right in saying that he would waste all of his time answering critics. The best answer may be your actions. Still, there are times when an answer is required and he knew when to deliver it.

    Finally, I will add this thought. There are times when an attack requires us to go full out and answer with all we have. We can lash out. Scream. Write a dissertation on how we’ve been wrongfully attacked. Whatever is necessary. And then, when we are all done with our justified response, we come out of the little room, shred the document, and resume a positive response. No one ever needs to know that initial reaction and it may make you feel much better. 🙂

  29. Bob Burg said at 6:44 am on

    Mike: What a GREAT story. Thank you for sharing that! If you felt you could say the company name, you would have, so I won’t ask. But, for the record I’m sure all of us would love to know. LOL!

  30. Bob Burg said at 6:48 am on

    Skip: As always, you shared great wisdom throughout. Thank you. I couldn’t agree more! And, that last one you mentioned has saved many a reputation as well as specific situation!

  31. Steve Boyett said at 9:03 am on

    Very insightful post, as always!

  32. Bob Burg said at 9:17 am on

    Steve: Thank you, my friend. Very appreciated!

  33. Clovia Hamilton said at 12:41 pm on

    Bob, I ignore all critics except my mentors, coaches, and folks with proven success! Great topic!

    Clovia Hamilton, President
    Lemongrass Consulting Inc
    Planning. Business Development.
    Business Training. Community Outreach.

  34. Bob Burg said at 1:21 pm on

    Clovia: Thank you for sharing with us!

  35. Sergey said at 2:00 am on

    Thank you for a great topic!
    Is the need to criticize = the need to be right?
    Historically, what are the outcomes of right/wrong disagreements?
    Why do we need to be right?
    Why, all I have is more questions and not a single answer?
    I guess I need to do more contemplating! 🙂
    Thanks again for a great post!

  36. Bob Burg said at 6:30 am on

    Sergey: Thank you. Indeed, often (but not always) criticism is much more about the criticizer than it is about the criticized. Even then, the criticized still needs to decide the proper times to respond and/or not respond to it. I appreciate your thoughts and kind words.

  37. Sergey said at 2:39 am on

    Thank you so much!
    It feels that any criticism could be and should be experienced and reflected upon, for one reason – once criticism is generated – it is unavoidable, ignoring or dodging it won’t make it go away…
    Depending on complexity of criticism it may take different amount of time to process it and respond to it, there is no rush. Communication should be open, respectful and wholehearted! 🙂

  38. Bob Burg said at 7:10 am on

    Terrific points, Sergey. Though, at times, I will suggest that – depending on the unique and specific situation – it might need to be done rather quickly. So, I feel the need to comment on that rather than accept “no rush” as an absolute. And, while most criticism should indeed be experienced and reflected upon, we also need to know when to simply ignore; again based on several factors. However, indeed I agree with your general comments. Excellent! Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us!

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