Five Tips and a Bonus: Dealing With Criticism

Criticism happens. People judge the work of others often. In writing or graphic design, the type of criticism you might receive depends on rather subjective opinions. One man’s treasure is another man’s trash, and vice versa.

For many people, all it takes is one word to breed discouragement. Criticism of a project that you’ve poured your heart into is tough. Worse, it’s difficult for many to avoid taking criticism of those types of projects personally, especially for those who can’t separate emotion from their job.

I should know; I’m one of those people.

Nobody enjoys criticisms, but they’re unavoidable. You can learn to deal with it gracefully. Here are my tips on coping with criticism:

  • Learn From It

On the surface, criticism often appears negative. Often there are a few grains of truth in the comments. Sometimes the anger we feel when criticized comes from anger we feel towards ourselves. I’ve had a few occasions where I was insulted that someone would dare question my authority or expertise. When I took a step back, I realized the clients’ points were valid. Look at the project again through the client’s eyes and take the suggestions to heart.

  • Listen To The Suggestion, Not the Tone.

We often shut down when the delivery of criticism is in a less-than-pleasant tone. There might be a few worthy gems in the comments, but we refuse to hear it because we’re defensive. Listen to the underlying message.

Sometimes criticism isn’t even criticism. In our text-based world of emails and IMs, it can be difficult to determine tone of voice and mood. The person might think they’re communicating in a purely conversational tone, but their words come across as harsh or angry. It’s not impossible to distinguish tone from suggestion in an email; it just takes a little more work.

  • The Value of Criticism.

Criticism is extremely valuable. In order to grow , we have to know where we need to improve. The only way to see this is through a fresh pair of eyes that shows the areas we can better.

  • Remember: No One’s Out To Get You.

Don’t take criticism personally. People have differing opinions on one thing or another. What one client might view as sheer genius, another might hate with a passion. This has nothing to do with you or your skills; it’s just a matter of personal preference.

  • False Criticism.

This is the hardest type of criticism to deal with. With false criticism, the person is angry at himself or jealous of something and misdirects his frustration at you. You might want to fight it and defend yourself, but don’t. The best thing you can do is to ignore it. By not feeding the behavior, you’re not giving any fuel for the person to continue.

  • Bonus Tip: Bite Your Tongue.

One of the best things to do when faced with difficult criticism is to resist a knee-jerk reaction. You’ll end up saying something you’ll regret. Step back from the conversation, walk away from the computer, and do whatever it takes to calm down and think rationally. Come back later when you can be calm.

No matter what, don’t get discouraged. If you give up and wallow in self-pity for a week, it won’t do you or anyone else any good. So what if your friend said your new project looked awful? He’s not talking about you. He’s talking about the work. Besides, is he an authority on the subject? If he is, get a second opinion; you might feel better and you’ll learn even more.

Think about the comments you received. They’re valuable. Can you apply them to make the project better? Where could you do better? Now work at improving those areas.

Jamie also has some great tips on dealing with criticism, especially when it’s in the form of a flaming email.

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