There’s no more valuable skill than to learn how to handle criticism.
Not everyone will love what you do and your ability to deal with criticism can improve your work and help you stick with it long enough to succeed.
Here’s what to do when someone criticizes your work…
How To Take Constructive Criticism
Criticism as an opportunity.
You’re too close to your work to view it objectively which means you need feedback from others in order to improve it over time.
Constructive criticism is a gift from the person who gives it to you.
Their perspective — especially if it’s shared by multiple people— can help you discover opportunities you would otherwise miss.
Criticism may hurt your ego, but it often helps your creations.
And if the constructive criticism you receive isn’t valid?
How To Ignore Criticism
Remember: You don’t have to listen to criticism.
Everyone has the right to an opinion of your work, but that doesn’t mean they’re right.
It can be tough to handle criticism because feedback feels like someone telling you what to do — that’s especially frustrating if you don’t believe the critic understands your work or is qualified to judge it.
But remember: Critics only have as much power as YOU give them.
Criticism is often as much about the critic’s own frustrations, sensitivities, and world view as it is your work.
No criticism of your work is definitively right or wrong — it’s just an opinion. And if you don’t believe an opinion has merit, you can ignore it.
Your opinion is every bit as valid as your critics.
Remembering this is also a key to becoming a consistent creator.
How To Respond To Criticism
Pause before you respond.
It’s tempting to immediately fire back at your critics and shoot them down, but don’t do that.
You’re better served to take a moment to calm down before you respond to criticism.
You don’t actually have to respond at all —you may be better served to just put the criticism behind you.
Don’t feed the trolls.
But if you do respond to criticism, a pause gives you a chance to collect your thoughts and form a measured response — one less reactionary and more effective.
This video of Steve Jobs dealing with criticism while giving a presentation is a perfect example of the power of a pause.
How To Take Criticism Well
Every week I send my For The Interested newsletter to 18,000+ subscribers.
There are always people who unsubscribe when I send it.
It’s easy to take those unsubscribes as criticism and feel awful about the 25 people who unsubscribed.
But that misses the big picture.
If my newsletter goes to 18,000 people and 25 unsubscribe, that’s 0.1% of my audience who unsubscribed.
That means 17,975 people enjoy the newsletter and continue to invite me into their inbox!
The negative will always overshadow the positive —25 unhappy people feels worse than 17,975 happy ones.
But that misrepresents the truth.
When you get criticism, measure it in the context of the big picture and don’t hear your critics louder than your fans.
As I previously explained, that’s how you overcome perfectionism.
How To Respond To Negative Comments
Just because someone criticizes your work doesn’t mean they’re not your fan.
Often times criticism is intended to be genuine feedback and help you.
If nothing else, it comes from a person who cares enough to share their opinion with you.
That’s valuable and not something to write off.
Instead, thank your critic for taking the time to give you feedback.
You don’t have to agree with their criticism or change your work, but you can explain the thinking behind what you do, show you value their opinion, and see what happens from there.
When you respond to criticism well, it creates an opportunity to bond with your audience.
An example of how this can play out:
I received the following email from a subscriber who wasn’t thrilled with something I had written in the newsletter:
Since subscribing to your newsletter, I’ve received one newsletter that pressed me to prove my loyalty to it,
….and this latest one begins with “This might be the last email you’ll get.”
Your techniques feel manipulative.
Maybe it’s your assumptions?
Maybe you don’t feel as if you are talking to your equals? Many people feel they are on top of their game, and whom lead themselves, are not seeking leadership.
I subscribed to interesting content. I didn’t subscribe to being pressured or to be someone’s minion.
Just putting it out there, rather than unsubscribing….
This is a real shame, because your content is good.
Obviously getting criticized like that doesn’t feel great.
But rather than ignore the email or write back to tell this person they didn’t know what they were talking about, I wrote this reply:
Thanks for the feedback — I appreciate it.
I’m glad you enjoy the content, but sorry the introduction came across that way.
Believe me, I don’t mean to assume I’m different than anybody else — quite the opposite. My point was essentially that I realize my newsletter is just another voice in the crowd and not everybody will connect with it. What I was trying to get across was that I don’t expect everybody to love the newsletter and that doesn’t mean they’re wrong — it just means what I do doesn’t fit what they’re looking for.
It was meant to be humble…sorry if it came across in a different way.
But thanks for sticking with me!
You’ll notice I didn’t tell the woman she was wrong and didn’t get combative. I simply thanked her and explained my original intent.
When you deal with criticism like this, it can strengthen your relationship with your audience in the long run.
In this case, here’s how my “critic” replied to my response:
I appreciate how you addressed your reply, and I apologize for being so blunt in my initial message.
Have a lovely day, keep up the good work!
She didn’t unsubscribe, felt heard, and now we both have a stronger connection as a result.
This won’t always happen — there are some who just want to be critical and you can’t (and shouldn’t try to) make everyone happy.
But criticism will always come with the territory of putting work into the world.
The sooner you see it as an opportunity, remember you don’t have to listen, recognize the big picture, and act accordingly, the sooner you can make it work for instead of against you.