5 Things To Do When Somebody Criticizes Your Work

Nobody likes to be criticized.

But the ability to handle criticism is a prerequisite to success. Because the more you succeed, the more people are exposed to what you do — and not all of those people are going to love it.

But dealing with criticism doesn’t have to be as hard as it seems.

Here are five simple things we can do when somebody criticizes our work to help us not only handle it, but benefit from it.

1. See it as an opportunity.

We’re too close to our own work to view it objectively.

That means we need feedback from others in order to improve.

When somebody criticizes our work they give us a gift. Their perspective — especially if it’s a perspective shared by multiple critics — can help us discover opportunities we otherwise may have missed.

Criticism may hurt our ego, but it often helps our creations.

And if we don’t think the criticism is valid? Well…

2. Remember you don’t have to listen.

Everybody has the right to their own opinion of our work — but that doesn’t mean we have to listen to it.

We take criticism personally because it feels like somebody else telling us what to do — this is particularly frustrating if we believe the critic doesn’t understand our work or isn’t qualified to judge it.

But remember: We don’t have to listen to our critics.

Nobody can force us to change anything about our work and how we present it. Critics only have as much power as WE give them.

If we don’t believe a person’s criticism has merit, then we can choose to ignore it.

The criticism we receive is often as much about the critic’s own frustrations, sensitivities, and worldview as it is our actual work. That’s human nature.

The criticisms we receive aren’t definitively right or wrong — they’re just opinions.

And ours is every bit as valid as our critics.

3. Pause before you respond.

It’s tempting to fire back at our critics and immediately shoot them down.

Don’t do that.

We’re better served to take a moment (or more) to calm down before we respond. We don’t actually have to respond at all — in some cases we’re better served to just put the criticism behind us.

Don’t feed the trolls.

But if we do respond, the pause gives us a chance to collect our thoughts and form a more measured response — one that’s less reactionary and more effective.

This video of how Steve Jobs dealt with a critic while giving a presentation is a perfect example of the power of a pause.

4. Consider the big picture.

Each week I send my For The Interested newsletter to more than 12,000 subscribers (you can check out the most recent issue here if you’re curious).

With an audience of that size, there are always a handful of people who unsubscribe each time I send it.

That doesn’t feel great and it’s easy to take those unsubscribes as criticism and feel terrible about the 40 people who unsubscribed.

But that misses the big picture.

If my newsletter goes to 12,000 people and 40 unsubscribe, that’s 0.3% of my audience who unsubscribed. That means 11,960 people enjoyed the newsletter and invite me into their inbox next week!

The criticism we receive will always feel bigger than it is — 40 unhappy people feels worse than 11,960 happy ones. But that misrepresents the truth about the work.

When we get criticism we have to measure it in the context of the big picture and not trick ourselves into hearing our critics louder than our fans.

5. Thank your critic.

Just because somebody criticizes your work doesn’t mean they’re not your fan.

Often times the criticism we receive from people is intended to be genuine feedback and to help us. If nothing else, it’s a person who cares enough to share their opinion with us.

That’s valuable and is not something we should just write off. Instead, we can thank our critic for taking the time to give us that feedback.

It doesn’t mean we have to agree with them and doesn’t mean we have to change your work, but we can explain to them the thinking behind what we do, show we value their opinion, and see what happens from there.

A person’s criticism often creates an opportunity to bond with our audience as opposed to driving us apart from them.

Here’s an example of how this can play out.

I received the following email from a newsletter subscriber who wasn’t thrilled with some things I had written in the newsletter:

Hi,

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 emails like that isn’t exactly fun.

But rather than ignore the email or write back to tell this person they didn’t know what they were talking about, instead 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!

Josh

You’ll notice I didn’t tell the person 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 strengthens your relationship with your audience in the long run.

In this case, here’s how my “critic” replied to my response.

Hey ;o)

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 critics who just want to be critical and you can’t (and shouldn’t try to) make everybody happy.

But criticism will always come with the territory of putting work out into the world.

So, the sooner we see it as an opportunity, remember we don’t have to listen, recognize the big picture, and act accordingly, the sooner we can make it work for us instead of against us.

One more thing…

If you found this post helpful, you’ll also enjoy my FOR THE INTERESTED newsletter.

It’s a weekly collection of 10 ideas to help you learn, do, and become better at your work, art, and life.

You can check out the most recent issue here.

Or, sign up below to subscribe: