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All About You: Dealing with criticism

All About You by Richard Hawk

EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.

When asked what the key to success is, comedian Bill Cosby is credited with saying, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

Trying to please everybody is also the key to being miserable because you will never – no matter what you do – be able to please everybody. No human can. The best performer will still have people who don’t like the performance. I have a musician friend who thinks the Beatles were overrated and too repetitive!

For us safety and health professionals, this means that some people we work with don’t like the way we do things. Sometimes it’s because they are chronic complainers. Other times it’s because they don’t like our style or approach to safety. And some critics have a valid point that is worth considering.

Receiving criticism can be very discouraging. You can have 100 people compliment you about a new program you created, but if one person makes a negative comment about it, you will dwell on that one complaint. I know I have done it many times throughout my life. It can sap your enthusiasm.

However, certain thoughts and actions can help ease the sting of negative comments.

First, realize it doesn’t necessarily mean you did a bad job. Your critic may not understand the reasons behind your actions. I give a “Misconception Test” during two of my talks. At first, they received mixed reviews, but then I began explaining the three reasons why I administer the test. That has helped create much better reactions to the exercise.

When a co-worker tells you something negative, perhaps about an aspect of your safety training, explain why you do it. Now, if you don’t know why you do it, that’s something you need to figure out.

Don’t expect the explanation to always reverse the person’s opinion – it might; it might not. But it will help you feel better about your actions.

I can give you several reasons why I strive to make my safety talks and seminars fun, and some of them include credible research results. So even if someone disagrees with my approach, even if they have valid points, I still feel confident about what I’m doing.

Keep track of the unique, specific compliments you receive. Why critics get the spotlight in our mind has to do with our survival. For thousands of years, humans had to pay more attention to things that were harmful than things that were helpful to stay alive (e.g., a snake in your path compared to some food on a bush).

It’s our natural inclination to notice the negative more than the positive. You can reduce the strength of that habit by writing down the special compliments you get or at least thinking about them more.

Lastly, don’t be afraid of doing new, innovative things because you will have critics. There’s no getting around it: If you want to progress as a safety professional, at some point you will encounter negative feedback.

In fact, in all aspects of your life, whenever you make positive changes, there’s a strong possibility that someone won’t like it and will try to discourage you from making the change.

Here’s another quote from Bill Cosby that may encourage you the next time you’re worried that you’ll receive criticism for trying something new: “In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.”

Richard Hawk helps companies around the world create more vibrant safety cultures by showing them how to make safety fun. As a professional speaker, author and musician, he also inspires employees to focus better and enlightens safety leaders about ways to increase their influence. To learn more about Richard, visit

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