Any leader, entrepreneur, or anyone in business has to deal with criticism --it's part of the deal. But no one said it's easy, so when high-profile people publicly handle criticism we take note, hoping we can take notes and learn.
Such is the case when pro golfer Phil Mickelson announced this week (as reported by golf.com) that he's skipping the Waste Management Phoenix Open (which he had attended 30 years in a row) to instead attend the swanky 2020 Saudi International in January, complete with an equally swanky $3.5 million purse and an estimated seven figure appearance fee for the left-handed golfer.
Mickelson's decision is not without controversy given the October 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The writer had spoken out against Saudi Arabia's Prince Mohammed bin Salman on several occasions.
Mickelson's decision is viewed by some as an implicit endorsement of a regime under question. Twitter user Brian Flaherty fired off this, to which Mickelson pointedly responded:
After turning down opportunities to go to the Middle East for many years, I'm excited to go play and see a place in the world I've never been. I understand those who are upset or disappointed. You'll be ok. I'm excited to experience this for the first time.-- Phil Mickelson (@PhilMickelson) December 3, 2019
Mickelson's approach provides a framework for anyone in business for handling vocal criticism.
First, Mickelson crisply provides context for his decision without sounding defensive. He's turned down the Saudi tournament many times, but he's at the point now where he wants an exciting new life experience (rather than the same old-same old for the 31st year in a row).
But the money two sentences are "I understand those who are upset or disappointed. You'll be ok."
Let's start here by focusing on the first sentence. Mickelson wasn't overtly dismissive of his critics, which often inflames critics further. He showed emotional intelligence and acknowledged their feelings. He showed empathy and understanding for their position and acknowledged their anger and disappointment. This is critical for dealing with critics that have a broad, vocal platform.
It should be noted that you must decide who gets to criticize you. Not all criticism is created equal, nor should all criticizers get a seat at the table. But when critics are able to take shots at you in public forums (like twitter, or in your company's town hall or message board, etc.), the rules change a little. Turnabout is fair play, but you have to play fairly and respectfully. Instigating critics in such cases by rudely dismissing them won't help. So Mickelson took the high road.
Now for that second sentence, those brilliant three words, "You'll be OK." Before you scream foul and say "That's dismissive!", I say it isn't. It's putting things into much needed perspective for the critics. It's saying, "C'mon, in the grand scheme of things you can choose to be upset about this, but it's actually insignificant. You'll get past it because there's not much to get past." Subtext, "So get a grip." It's a very smart way to not let the critics off the hook, to force them to consider the pettiness of their concerns and to put the whole thing in its proper pecking order of things to worry about and that matter.
It's a good framework for you to follow the next time you're tattooed with unwarranted, vocal, aggressive criticism. Provide context without being defensive. Acknowledge the critics point of view. Empathize. But don't cower. Put the critics sentiment in perspective. And gently and respectively put the critics and their concerns in their place.
Try it. "You'll be OK" for doing so.