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Listen to Your Critics…They Might Be Right

You’re never going to love being criticized. But learning to like it could mean the difference between stellar success and so-so results.

I’ve had an evolving relationship with criticism over the years. As a young gun, eager to prove myself, I felt like I had to hold fast against my critics. My instinct was to assume that my critics "didn't get what I got," so I needed to forge ahead to make things happen.

But over time, I learned that adopting the mindset of "they might be right," got me further ahead than just shutting critics out. This meant taking the time to listen and understand if the issues they were raising were well-founded. Sometimes they were, and I was able to address the concerns and make the idea even better, or even change direction. And sometimes I decided that forging ahead was the best course of action. In either case, I knew that my ideas had been tested and improved. Listening to what your critics say could be a real avid learning moment, if you allow it to be–it could even change the trajectory of your career.

When YUM! was first spun off in 1997, we inherited a legacy of sluggish same-store sales growth. We were looking for a big idea that could really catapult our sales, and increase the average unit sales per store–and multi-branding (the practice of housing multiple restaurant brands in one location) felt like the right approach. Crunching the numbers, we realized that we could immediately add $300,000 to $400,000 in sales if we combined a Taco Bell and KFC together. That got us revved up. We started asking where we could open up new units and where could we add Taco Bells to existing KFCs and vice versa. I became very focused on making multi-branding really big at YUM! and pushing our organizations to get behind it, even acquiring Long John Silver’s to add them to the mix. Regrettably, I didn't get enough understanding of the barriers and didn’t take the time to really listen to the criticism on multi-branding.

Truth be told, the franchisees wanted to remain focused on their core brand and didn’t want to interfere with their success, even if there might be an upside. There were also all kinds of operational complexities that made it difficult to make a profit. Looking back, what I should have done is gotten everybody in the same room talking about what the issues were around multi-branding, and come out of there with a multi-branding test strategy so that we could evolve and do it together with focus. Instead, I focused on spreading multi-branding across the country without any real critical mass. If we would have shown proof of concept and improved operations, I'm absolutely convinced we would have had more success.


Listening to criticism is important, but it isn’t easy–no one likes to be told they are wrong. In order to grow from criticism, you must adopt a more curious mindset.

Take a minute to slow down, assess, and answer these questions about your mindset when your “critics” are speaking:

  1. Are you getting defensive and acting as if they are trying to sabotage you?
  2. Are you pushing back, certain that they are wrong?
  3. Or are you truly taking the time to listen and consider what people are saying?

Stop in the moment, and really consider the answers to these questions–and the different mindsets they reflect.  Which one is most likely to help you succeed? Because it’s not about being right. It’s about reaching your goals; doing what you set out to do. It’s as simple as having the mindset:

I might learn something new. 


They don’t get what I mean. It’s useless to even talk to them.

They’re trying to make sure we are on the right track. 


They are trying to undermine my authority and make me look bad.

Which mindset do you want to embrace? Which feels like the right choice for growth?

Today, I rely on people to tell me things I don’t want to hear, and it does me a world of good. The results are always better. I still believe it’s important to have courage to move forward with intentionality to achieve your big goal, but it’s just as important that you don’t do it until you’ve listened to everyone’s concerns and considered all the potential barriers to success. This requires patience, maturity, and confidence in your own judgment, but if you do this step right, opening yourself up to the possibility that the naysayers, the critics, might be right shouldn’t lead to self-doubt. Instead, it should and will (if you allow it) expand your knowledge and perspective, which, in the end will make you even more confident about the path you are on, and open up incredible opportunities for growth in the future.

Has criticism fueled your growth? I’d love to hear about a time when a dissenting opinion opened up new possibilities for you.

January 25, 2022