"Listen and be open, but don't let anybody tell you who you are."

Those were the opening words of a Jeff Bezos tweet that eventually went viral. It also inspired one of this column's most read stories of the year, which focused on how to reap the benefits of criticism, without letting it define you.

"People who are right a lot listen a lot, and they change their mind a lot," Bezos once said in an interview. "They wake up and re-analyze things and change their mind. If you don't change your mind frequently, you're going to be wrong a lot. People who are right a lot want to disconfirm their fundamental biases."

That's why it's so important to be open to criticism. But what if criticism attacks your core beliefs, the very essence of who you are?

By urging readers to "not let anybody tell you who you are," Bezos encourages a balanced view of criticism. Yes, listen and be open to change. But don't be tempted to give in to haters, to become something you're not, or to change your core beliefs simply to please others. 

Because criticism can be a diamond in the rough, or it can be a pile of fool's gold. Figuring out which is which can mean the difference between success and failure.

Facebook Attacks Apple, Tim Cook Fights Back

What happens when an unstoppable force hits an immovable object? 

In a speech for a Brussels conference marking International Data Privacy Day at the beginning of the year, Apple CEO Tim Cook went on the offensive against Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. Cook's speech seemed to be a direct response to Facebook's attack on Apple, in which the world's largest social network took out full-page ads in several newspapers attacking Apple's new privacy changes. 

Apple's move signaled major lessons for entrepreneurs and business owners, including the need to ask yourself:

Which philosophy do I want to pursue? 

Do I want a business that serves my customers? Or one that takes advantage of customers to serve my business?

Only one of these philosophies is sustainable for the long-term. The other will lead you to crash and burn. And while the long-term solution may initially prove more challenging, as Cook put it in his speech:

"The path of least resistance is rarely the path of wisdom."

A Respected MIT Professor's Simple (and Brilliant) 4-Word Rule

When MIT professor Patrick Winston lectured, he had a famous, four-word rule of engagement in the classroom. It was a non-negotiable policy, and while simple, it's a rule that almost no one today follows, and that makes it extremely valuable. 

Winston's classroom rule? No laptops. No cellphones.

"Some people ask why [this] is a rule of engagement," says Winston. "The answer is, we humans only have one language processor. And if your language processor is engaged ... you're distracted. And, worse yet, you distract all of the people around you. Studies have shown that."

He continues, "And worse yet, if I see an open laptop, somewhere back there, or up here, it drives me nuts!"

Winston is right, of course--and his rule is backed up by years of scientific research.

Taylor Swift's Master Class in Emotional Intelligence

The pop megastar made headlines early this year when she launched Fearless (Taylor's Version), a newly recorded take of the uber-successful album that catapulted her to stardom.

The project was a culmination of a multiyear battle in which Swift claims she was "stripped of [her] life's work" when her former label, Big Machine, along with the master recordings to her first six albums, were sold to powerful music executive (and Swift's sworn enemy) Scooter Braun.

But Swift's new album was more than a savvy business move. It's a signal to artists and content creators everywhere of a major shift in the balance of power. And at the center of the story is a brilliant lesson in emotional intelligence:

Instead of dwelling on what you can't change, focus on what you can.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai's Number 1 Question

As CEO of Google and Alphabet, it's Sundar Pichai's job to make sure his companies continue moving forward, continue to keep up with the demands of millions of users and customers around the world.

That's no easy job. But earlier this year Pichai shared with me a single question that helps him remember his role. He learned the question from his mentor, former Columbia University football coach turned business coach Bill Campbell.

Whenever they met, says Pichai, Campbell would ask him:

"What ties did you break this week?"

Campbell wasn't speaking about breaking ties as in cutting off relationships. Rather, he was teaching Pichai that he needed to break stalemates. 

Pichai says he's still asking that question today.

If you own a business or lead a team, you can use this question to help you:

  • Prioritize those you want to please
  • Pursue progress, not perfection
  • See the big picture

Because leadership is moving things forward.

When a Customer Starts Taking Over Your Life

What happens when a client starts to demand much more than what's reasonable? 

That's the question small-business owner Larionne Mariah found herself faced with. Her client started berating her for taking too long to respond to messages. When Mariah said her fee didn't include 24/7 monitoring of her messages, the client demanded "full attention."

Her response? She refunded the client's fee, and recommended moving on with another designer.

As an entrepreneur or business owner, you may find it difficult to strike that balance between work and life. Not to mention the pandemic has further blurred those lines for many.

That's what makes this lesson so important: Start setting boundaries, or others will set them for you.

If you don't set boundaries, you put yourself on a path to burnout. In contrast, setting and communicating expectations can save your business--and your mental health.

A CEO Listens to His Critics and Corrects Course

When Sweetgreen CEO Jonathan Neman tried to start a conversation around the issues surrounding systemic health care, he didn't expect his comments to go viral. And he certainly didn't imagine what he said would be considered controversial.

But after listening to critics, Neman apologized to staff, following up with a larger apology on LinkedIn.

And while it wasn't perfect, it provided a great case study in how emotional intelligence works in the real world.

Neman did three things well:

1. He started a conversation.

2. He listened.

3. He learned.

The takeaway: Humility doesn't mean that you lack self-confidence or that you never stand up for your own opinions or principles. Rather, it involves recognizing that you don't know everything--and being willing to learn from others.

Because having high emotional intelligence doesn't mean you're perfect. But it's how you handle those mistakes that will determine how emotionally intelligent you truly are. 

(If you enjoyed these lessons, be sure to sign up for my free emotional intelligence course, and every day for 10 days, you'll get a rule designed to help you make emotions work for you, instead of against you.)