12 Elegant Responses to Criticism (And, a Coco Film)

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“A creative life cannot be sustained by approval any more than it can be destroyed by criticism.”
― Will Self

In a world that loves to highlight all the positive raves and dares not mention the negative ones, I think it’s high time we bring something out into the light.

It’s something not many people talk about because it stirs feelings of fear, shame and unworthiness. Yet, if you’re doing anything that truly tests the limits and makes an impact in the world, I bet you my favorite Christian Louboutins that you’re going to– at some point– experience.

What is it?  The sting of criticism.

Just last week, a woman who signed up for my newsletter chose to respond to a blog post with the following:

“Tonya, this is so unrealistic and silly I simply don’t have the time or interest regarding this world of yours.”

This isn’t my first criticism rodeo.  I occasionally get that one person who loathes everything I have to say (who hates Champagne, Paris and all things beautiful).  Quelle tragique, I know.

Over the years of writing, speaking and running my company, I’ve become quite comfortable with criticism.  In fact, I often think of the beautiful line from Aristotle:

“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”

Oftentimes, I ask for it.  After my programs and retreats, I welcome feedback.  I want to always learn how I can improve and provide better value.

I’m also smart enough to know when the criticism isn’t about me.

So, just in case you’re ever confronted with criticism (and, high five when you do, because it tells me you’re actually doing something in the world and not just sitting around and complaining about it), here’s a smorgasbord of elegant responses that I have compiled over the years to deal with negative feedback, both inwardly and outwardly.

Elegant response #1: Consider the source.

I have never received hurtful criticism from someone I admire or who is busy creating something of value in the world.  Those people are too busy to tear others down.

It’s easy to criticize from the sidelines.

Elegant response #2: Don’t take it personally.

This may be the hardest step, but also the most important. Why? Because we all view the world with our own personal filters.

Unless you have hurt someone intentionally, it is not really about you.

As one of my favorite quotes says, “Judging a person doesn’t define who they are, it defines who you are.”

Elegant response #3:  Don’t respond immediately.

Breathe.

Take a day or two– or twenty, for that matter– to allow yourself the time to process the feedback before offering a response.

Elegant response #4:  Be gracious.

Whether or not it is warranted, criticism does give you a chance to step more into who you are. Which is, of course, a lovely and divine being.

For that, be grateful.

Express sincere gratitude for their feedback… and then let it go.

Elegant response #5:  Shine brighter

I once had a woman tell me I was too feminine.  My first reaction was to take off my heels and wipe off my lipstick.

In that moment, I had a choice.  I could dim my light OR I could shine even brighter.  I decided to dial up my femininity about 100 joules. It drove that poor woman mad.  However, by the end of the night, she was asking me for fashion advice.  That’s what happens when you stand in your truth: they’ll either leave your world or meet you where you are.

The brighter you shine, the more criticism you’ll receive.  And, the more people you’ll inspire.  (tweet it)

Elegant response #6:  Be compassionate.

In response to the woman who thinks my world is silly …

A world founded on the belief that each day should be beautiful, full of ease and pleasure and that dreams do come true…

…my heart goes out to her.

Elegant response #7: Uninvite

You’re an intelligent and thoughtful woman. You know when criticism is coming from a vengeful and ugly place and when it is warranted and appreciated.

To the ugly, this probably means that someone needs to be uninvited from your party.

For example, this blog you’re reading?  It’s my virtual home, of sorts. And, just like in my home, I welcome diverse opinions, healthy debates, and lots of varied conversation. Isn’t that what makes us beautiful and unique?

But when you decide to get nasty, you will be uninvited from my living room.

And for those who stick around, I guarantee you a fabulous time.

Elegant response #8:  Listen.

Sometimes, criticism is warranted.  It’s coming from a place of love and support.  There have been times in my life when friends have offered me feedback that held immense truth.

There was no need to respond.  Just a call to listen and process so that I could grow as an individual. It is an extraordinary gift when it is given and received with love.

To my dear friends: Thank you!

Elegant response #9:  Don’t be a praise whore

I almost suggested that you keep a fan file filled with praise to lick your wounds with the love and appreciation that’s around you, but I’ve discovered that criticism stings most to the person who relies on constant praise.  

Of course, we all love to feel appreciated and adored, but depending on one and trying to avoid the other keeps you locked up in needing external validation to feel a certain way.

Wouldn’t it be freeing to not be affected by either?  To just do your thing in the world, unapologetically?  That’s when you can love and serve the best – not needing the accolades or resisting the critics.  Depending on one is just as destructive and avoiding the other.  Juicy thought, isn’t it?

Elegant response #10:  Don’t apologize.

When your intent is good and you’re doing your work in the world, there is NO need to apologize for someone else being offended.

Truly, that’s their issue, darling, not yours.

Elegant response #11:  Welcome criticism.

After putting myself out there in the world for quite some time now, I’ve actually grown very comfortable with criticism.  It doesn’t sting nearly as bad as it used to.

It’s a muscle that must be built, and it can only grow if you’re willing to experience it.

So, welcome the criticism; don’t back down from it.  It’s a sign you’re doing something in the world and people are taking notice.

Bravo!

Elegant response #12:  Examine your response.

The moment words start rolling off the tongue or a negative email is opened, one of the best gifts you can offer yourself is to watch how you respond.

You’ll learn so much about yourself in the process.

Do you get angry and start screaming at the person?

Do you become sad and retreat like a little hurt puppy?

Do you open your heart to see if there’s any loving truth?

What do you make it mean about you?

There’s no right or wrong way to deal with criticism, but perhaps the elegance is in looking at yourself and discovering how you can use whatever comes your way to grow and learn.

Then– always from that place– respond accordingly. That’s elegance! 

And, if you want to be in company, watch this beautiful short documentary about Coco Chanel, who was no stranger to criticism.

As always, I’d love to hear how you handle criticism in the comments below.

Courageously Yours,

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Tonya

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26 Responses to 12 Elegant Responses to Criticism (And, a Coco Film)

  1. Hey Beautiful! Well, I’m a TL lover, not a hater. Your article on criticism is right on and well written. I always think of Wayne Dyer’s words “What other people think of me is none of my business.” You make an important point about praise. My take is that our school system in particular and society in general encourage praise addiction and unfortunately women are much more susceptible to being praise junkies. Keep up your smart and savvy writing, I look forward to your posts at least as much I do my J Crew catalog arriving in the mail. XO

  2. Oh, this post is so helpful and inspiring…and elegant! Thank you.

    I’ve received the “unrealistic” criticism often enough to have to think a lot about this one. Here’s a few things I’ve decided:

    1. A lot of what I want to do hasn’t been done before, would be unique and brand new in ways, and there aren’t abundant or obvious examples in mainstream society of people doing what I want to do and living how I want to live. So maybe my dream isn’t a fully fleshed out reality yet…but what dreams are? That’s why we dream and that’s why I think are dreams are sacred – they call us, they beckon us to create a new reality and to become very REAL people, the truest versions of ourselves, in the process. This is one of the many things I think you do so brilliantly and beautifully – I love it.

    2. I believe some people have created this now commonly accepted definition of reality that goes something like this: reality: the most bleak, burdensome, and uninspiring alternative of any possible choices you might be entertained, a life capable of bright spots and good times, just not to much, and often characterized as a “struggle” marked by Sisyphean-like strife, and, ultimately, disappointment. Last time I checked, that’s not actually what Webster has to say about it…

    3. This relates back to #1. There are other times when I hear people say, “That’s not realistic,” and from the context I gather that what they really mean is, “That’s not likely to happen,” or, even, “That’s just not possible.” For me, this is a huge distinction. There’s a big difference between just acknowledging that, yes, the life you desire is not completely created yet (is not real…yet), versus believing that it is not possible (it will never be real). When I receive this unrealistic criticism through this kind of understanding, yes, it is so much easier for me to feel compassion and also it is inspiring fuel for my creator fire…a sort of, “I know it’s not been done before, that’s one of the reasons I find it so exciting. And I know you don’t think it will ever be real or that I’m capable of it, but just watch me…”

    So, thank you once again for being who you are…and for writing these amazing, beautiful, brilliant, inspiring posts. I love the infusion of Tonya and her beautiful world that they bring to my day.

    XOXO-

    Leah

    • As always, so beautifully articulate Leah.

      Reality is a funny thing, because we each have one.

      When you look around at your surroundings, everything, was just at one point, a thought.

      Keep dreaming, keeping shining and the reality YOU create will be your own.

      Muah,

      T

  3. Elegant responses 9 – 12 hit the spot for me. Your advice here was very much welcome. Not that the other 8 didnt, but I sorta already knew those. Being Elegant and Feminine is such a beautiful thing and I love the idea of maintaining that beauty even when things go awry. I have to admit, that I dont usually comment on things because of fear of criticism. Or I wouldnt respond to feedback because of fear of making the situation worse. But allowing criticism to work out its way in the items mentioned, helps me to understand myself better, and also assist me in being true to myself. Thank you for these elegant responses. … the film too was quite inspiring.

  4. Well said! I used to react badly to criticism, getting sad or feeling hurt for days. It has taken time and practice to learn to manage my responses in abetter way. I’m not perfect, but definitely better. My favorite response now is gratitude. It works especially well at work. Plus, I learn from every mistake without the lingering hateful thoughts that just waste energy.

    • Gratitude, I’ve decided, is the best prescription for almost everything.

      Thanks for you comment Stephanie!

  5. What a beautiful, poised and well constructed post (and response)! Some people are so hammered down with daily living that they have not been able to enjoy life. Taking time out to have my photos taken, reading a great book, blowing bubbles with my boys, laughing, and sipping margaritas with my friends is all but silly! I need these wonderful people and happenings in my life! As the saying goes, “Stay close to anything that makes you glad you are alive.” Cheers, Tonya! And, may you continue to inspire women around the world!

  6. Yes, I just feel sad for anyone whose reaction to your delightful SUGGESTIONS is to immediately shut down to (and strike out against) the possibility, the imagining, the mere HOPE that they could have what you imply for themselves and their own precious life. I, however, absolutely love what you’ve got going on here, and missed your posts terrifically those past few weeks and thoroughly enjoy your perspective. Thanks for putting your self out there & inspiring me! I will now go put on lipstick in your honor.

  7. Hi Tonya,
    There are some wonderful ‘Coco Docs’ available, but this one was especially delightful.
    She was, and continues to be, an inspiring woman.
    I admire the way she was always in a state of curiosity; not afraid to ask questions. Thank you for sharing it with us.
    As for the critics out there…
    I’m deeply appreciative for their presence as they only make us stronger, even tho’ the growing pains feel anything but fun.
    Each of the responses you frame so elegantly are extremely powerful, none more so than #12.
    We grow and the world grows with us.
    Merci mille fois
    au revoir
    Dawn

  8. “We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams.” ~Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy

    When one knows who she is, she is unshakable. She wears the sun hat, rides the motorcycle and picks daisies when she feels like it. I really think that criticism of the negative variety originates from fear and envy. I have always been a sensitive soul, but have been tempered into strength.

    I LOVE you and the beauty you share. Sad for those who settle for a world of anything less. xo

  9. I love every single article you have written so far, Tonya! What an inspiring woman you are. This was again another splendid article accompanied with a splendid Coco Chanel. How I wish these elegant hats would come back to fashion again <3

  10. Great article, Tonya! This is one that I want to read over and over because I need to get it deep into my consciousness. My mother was an angry, insecure, and jealous type of woman and I learned to keep my head down, eyes down, and body hidden so she wouldn’t be threatened by me or accuse me of things I didn’t do (nor would do, but she didn’t know me well enough to know that).

    She “saw”flirting when there wasn’t any and she often accused me of flirting with my stepfather (I thought of him as my dad, it was something that didn’t even enter my mind).

    Fast forward 30 years and I’ve become painfully aware that even now after all the inner work I’ve done, I’m still afraid to stand out or be more successful because it would invite her anger, jealousy and verbal abuse (she’s dead now and I had cut her out of my life 30 years ago because she was so toxic and unwilling to get any healing for herself).

    Now, I want to hide from my sister who is a notorious sponge with a unearned sense of entitlement. No one in the family wants her around now because of this kind of behavior from her.

    My point is that even though I’ve worked hard on setting boundaries, etc., healing from abuse, deep inside me is still a scared little girl who is afraid that mom is going to hate her and her sister is going to be jealous and try to ruin and/or take what she’s worked for! This is not even rational!

    My mind knows better and is pretty confident on how to handle criticism (ask a lot of questions and repeat back to the person what they said, usually when they hear it out loud, they hear how it really sounds), but emotionally, I still don’t trust myself completely to take care of myself in the face of unreasonable or aggressive criticism. It always surprises me, and yes, hurts.

    Thank you for sharing this with us, your courage is inspiring to me.

  11. Hi Karen,

    Thank you for opening up and sharing your story. I think that every woman has that scared little girl inside of her. I encourage you to give her lots of hugs and support AND let her know that you’re going to take exquisite care of her while you French Kiss Life.

    xoxo,

    T

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