What is the right response when we find ourselves listening to “Critical Kathy” vent about all the things she didn’t like about what we did, and what was wrong with a job, event or program that we were involved with?

I am on the advisory board of a women’s organization. The advisory board consists of many powerful and trailblazing women (and a few men) from across the United States. The committee recently organized a large event that lasted a few days and was attended by many women. During a board meeting after the event, we were discussing how to improve the next one. That is when we received an open letter by a fellow board member.

In the letter, Critical Kathy explained how disappointed she was with the event and that she would not be attending it in the future, or be further involved. Her letter concluded with a vague call-to-action that someone should do something different at some future point. Worst of all, her negativity was hidden under a veil of constructive criticism.

I had to ponder over this letter for a while before I knew how to react. As a supporter of all things women, I was taken aback and saddened. And I was itching to speak up in response. Something inside of me roared and begged me to voice my opinion but was it my place to say something or not?

I finally realized that as the founder of The Women’s Code, I HAD to step up and speak up. Let’s face it—it’s always our place to get involved when we see injustice. My work is about awareness, support, and collaboration. Wouldn’t I become a hypocrite if I remained silent?

In this particular case, the woman’s critique pointed out what she herself didn’t like. If you have ever attempted to facilitate an event, you know that it is hard work. You have to identify who your audience is, find out what they want, inspire them through outstanding programs, attract speakers who won’t charge more than you can afford (or ask them to speak for free), keep it affordable for attendees, and make money at the end of it all. It’s a tall order, to say the least.

This is where our awareness comes in. What is going on? What are the facts? What are we feeling? Even if we personally don’t agree with all aspects of the program, did the sincere desire to make a difference come through? Did the leader put 100% into making it as successful as possible? If the answer is yes, the leader deserves our support—irrespective of the outcome. It takes a lot to step up, take a huge financial risk with the hope of making a positive change.

Critical Kathy’s letter reminded me of a summer intern I worked with a few years ago. The intern requested a meeting with me and when the time came, he walked into my office with a list of all the things he saw that we did wrong in our operational procedures. He was just about to start going through each item before I stopped him. I said, “Today is your lucky day because you are about to get the most important business lesson you will ever learn. It’s the number one rule and here it is: if you see something you don’t approve of, don’t bother telling me UNLESS you have a solution for making it better.” He looked at me, took his list, and walked out. He got it. From then on, unless he had a better idea or knew how to solve the problem himself, he didn’t contribute any more ‘constructive criticism.’

It is only when we support each other that we improve our collaboration. Support is the fuel that keeps a person going especially when there is risk involved.

If you’d like to learn more about how to present your ideas the right way, here is an article that offers some valuable suggestions.

Women especially have a tendency to focus on one critical voice versus the hundreds of positive pieces of feedback. In The Women’s Code, we are creating a sisterhood that honors all women. We prop up those who step into leadership positions because they are on the front line. For that reason alone, we love and support them, even if (or especially when) they are not perfect. Support fosters better collaboration.

And that was my response to Critical Kathy. It had to be said.

How do you handle critical voices on your team? Do you have any tips you can share with our community?

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