Dealing With Negative Criticism

angrymobAs freelancers, we do everything we can to get our names out there. Whether it’s writing blog posts, twittering, using other social media, or just dealing with clients, we try to be everywhere on the web.

Unfortunately, the more you put yourself out there, the more you open yourself up to those people. You know who they are–the ones who disagree with you and aren’t afraid to point that out, the ones who hate your work, writing and thoughts.

While not the same as outright rejection, negative criticism can be just as upsetting and hurtful. So how do we deal with it while staying professional and cool headed? Here are some tips from someone who’s also received lots of criticism in her freelancing career.


Six Tips to Help You Deal with Critics

Here are six tips to help you deal with criticism:

  • Don’t take it personally.
    The person may disagree with your work or what you said, but that doesn’t mean they’re attacking you personally.
  • Calm down
    Take a deep breath. Even if the person is being unfair or just trying to pick a fight, keep your calm. Fighting with the person will not only result in you losing work if it’s a client, but will also ruin your reputation and make you look like the bad guy.
  • Could they be right?
    Try to see the criticism objectively. Can you turn it into something good? What would happen if you tried to follow their advice? If the criticism comes from an industry expert, try following it to see if it would make you better at what you do.
  • Could you be wrong?
    If you’re dealing with a client, could you be in the wrong? Having an angry client is definitely not going to be something you want to deal with. Is it worth fighting about and losing their business? Make sure you listen to their criticism very carefully, they could be right and you could learn something.
  • What if you’re right?
    Is it worth arguing about and wasting valuable time you could be spending working? Would it make you seem petty or immature if you do argue it? If so, it may be better to just move on. If you firmly believe it’s worth addressing, calm down first and remember to behave professionally. Explain your methodology and why you believe it to be correct. Don’t shout or call names. Most people actually enjoy hearing others’ point of views, so don’t be afraid to express yours.
  • Shrug it off
    If all else fails, shrug it off. Not everyone is going to agree with what you say or do, nor should they. If it’s not something you can learn from, or just from an internet bully, ignore it and move on. You’ll probably never see or hear from them again anyways, so there’s no point in worrying about what they think, or wasting your day trying to change it.

It’s tough dealing with criticism. It’s even tougher when you know you’re right. Personally, I’m the kind of person who’ll fight with you all day to prove my point, so I have to remind myself that I’ve got plenty of client work I should be doing instead.

But, don’t let that spoil your freelancing spirit. Just remember that you’re awesome at what you do, otherwise you’d have no clients! So don’t let anyone make you think otherwise. There’s enough room in the internet world for everyone’s opinions, so take a deep breath, smile and move on!

Your Thoughts

Have you had to deal with negative criticism? How did you do it?

Image by Robert Couse-Baker

Comments

  1. says

    Hi Amber,

    nice post again, really useful for any work, not just freelancing. I think that, being in a world like web design where creativity plays a great role and points-of-views can be very different from each other, makes you more vulnerable to critics in general and of course also to bad and unfair critics.
    Normally I would fight for my opinion, but I’ve learned that in most of the cases it’s not worth it and I’d better spend my time doing something else.

  2. Marnie B says

    This goes perfectly with a blog post I published today! You have some great points. It can be a real blow to your confidence when you/your work is criticized, but sometimes it’s great as it prompts you to wonder if perhaps they’re right and you could
    improve things.

    Marnie B

  3. says

    Fabulous post, Amber! Criticism is never easy to accept, is it? I tend to put criticism into two categories: constructive and destructive. If a person’s criticism of my work is constructive (i.e., has a good point), I tend to swallow it easier and learn from it. On the other hand, if the criticism is destructive (i.e., just venting), I try to let it roll off and focus on other things.

    This is a great reminder for me to evaluate any criticism that I give. I’m inspired — thanks!

    This blog is wonderful. Just found it today, but I’ll be back.

  4. says

    Amber, wonderful post. I had this happen last week and I must admit my tough resolve crumbled. No matter how hardcore we are, we are also human and criticism stings initially but your advice is solid. Take a deep breath and process, if it’s accurate, fix it, if it’s not shrug it off. Thanks for writing this post, I needed this reinforcement.

  5. says

    I really appreciate the optimistic approach to criticism. You can either get real angry and fight or you can exude your professional – political attitude.

    Amber,

    Have you ever had to fire a client?

  6. says

    I definitely feel what you’re talking about. I think it’s harder not to take it personally when your design isn’t chosen and another designers, who’s work is clearly sub-par wins.

    The thing about design is that you always save your files and can recycle them to a client that will appreciate it… build your resources and keep trucking – everything will be used eventually anyway.

  7. says

    Good post, Amber! There are blog-trolls everywhere these days. If it were a client that disagreed with me (when I knew I was right), I would always try and show them why I’m right, in a nice way of course. It really depends what is being criticised. If it is your work, then I’d always say to stick to your guns, and stand your ground! :-)

  8. says

    @Jordan Yes, unfortunately I’ve had to fire clients. Either they took up too much time without paying, or they were at the lower end of my rates and when I raised them, had to drop them.

  9. says

    I know what you mean, Amber. This is a great article and you bring some great tips to the table.

    How do I deal with the criticism? I usually go to the bathroom mirror and start shouting encouraging phrases at myself like, “you’re wicked awesome!” and “let’s do it!” It works! I swear by it.

    I learned this great technique from a person hero of mine: Janet – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHSjT-c_u1w

  10. says

    Another great post, Amber! I just received an email from a “critic” yesterday. My first reaction was to get a little upset but I stepped back, looked at from their perspective and followed his advice. I sent him a professional reply and thanked them for taking the time to provide their thoughts and the actions that I took. Even though it wasn’t a client, they could be some day!

  11. says

    I once had a client who wanted a design for an online clothes shop. After submitting three options which were all shot down – I bailed out on him citing pressure of work,
    So he went off and got himself a free site from somewhere and took photos of himself wearing the clothes in his living room.
    Three months later he was back, tail between his legs: all his potential clients had been scared off once they had seen his ‘website’.
    He had had many emails to the effect that his site was – to put it mildly -crap- and that the merchandise therefore could not be much better.
    All that to make the point – the client is definitely not always right.

  12. says

    Great post Amber.. I enjoyed it and it made many great points.

    Currently I haven’t been subject to many forms of negative criticism, but there is still plenty of time for that. :P

  13. says

    Thanks for the great article Amber!

    As a person who is already her own worst critic, I surprisingly take criticism well. These tips are what I follow though and they’re great!

  14. says

    Criticism isn’t always easy to deal with, especially when its regarding something you’re proud of or simply something you’ve done. But I think that its not worth fighting your corner when you could be learning something from your client, and its not worth losing the business either. A client will respect you for listening to them, when they have something hard to hear, to say.

  15. says

    You are right about so much of this. With writing, it is personal because we put our thoughts into it, our “soul” if you will. Great ideas.

  16. says

    I’ve had my fair share of criticism in the past but I stopped to think, “if one person bothered to criticise something there are probably 100 other people out there with the same unvoiced opinion. What can I take from this criticism and learn from it.”

    By listening and dealing with critics arguments I have improved both my writing style and refined the quality of the articles that had criticism levelled at them.

    I also learned that people do not read complex sentances and just give up so I’ve adopted a keep it simple approach and as a result I have a growing readership.

  17. says

    Great post! I think the biggest thing is the very first bullet point, realize the criticism isn’t directed at you personally, but rather at your work or business dealings. Take it with a grain of salt, make any necessary changes, and move on.

  18. says

    This is nice I definitely agree with all of these, I think creative minds should be passive when dealing with criticisms. It’s just that if your mind gets clouded with the negativity of criticism it will affect your work especially if it’s a client.

  19. says

    I think the best tutorial for how to separate criticism of your ideas from criticism of you personally, is to log onto Topix.com for about a week, and participate in one of the discussions on religion. No matter what your POV is, somebody will viciously attack it. At some point, one either has a stress-induced neurotic burnout, or they figure out that there are people out there that just can’t hold a civil conversation to share dissenting view points.

    I would imagine that’s how it is in these cases.

    If a client is approaching you for your expertise, it’s important that they understand what your “expertise” entails, and that you have effectively communicated such. If you are being contracted for design, then the client needs to understand that their vision may not be the best vision; if they are hiring you for content or process throughput, but want their creative design untouched, you should really do what they actually hired you to do.

    If it’s THAT horrible, then you should address it to them, and be prepared to back it up with, “Yeah, I can’t work on this project for you; I don’t want my reputation associated with this product, because the design aesthetics are just too horrible.” If you don’t feel you can say that, then it’s likely just a creative-conflict, and you’re not seeing the product the way the client sees it.

    Ie: My grandfather, when he had his house expanded in the 1950s, as an engineer, he designed each room and wrote up the blueprints himself. Then he hired a separate contracting company for each room addition. He stated that he did this consciously, to keep any one contractor from using “creative license” to alter his design, as he already knew how he wanted it to look.

    Not everybody wants to pay for a stay at the Hilton; sometimes the Comfort Inn will work just fine. The Knight’s Inn, however, is not the place to hold a professional business meeting.

    If that analogy doesn’t work for someone; can’t help you there…

  20. Santosh says

    One of my favorite books “Find Your Lightbulb” by Mike Harris. In his book he talks about the criticism and tell us to create an Intelligent Insight List, whatever the criticism you receive just add it to the list, infact, just welcome such criticism because that will give us an opportunity to see what we didn’t see or overlooked and allows us to work upon the criticism and enhance our product/idea/(works with everything)

  21. says

    Nice Article. I like the idea of not taking criticism personally, and keeping yourself cool. I still have a room for improvement when it comes to criticism. I am reading a book, “When I say No, I feel guilty”. This book talks a lot about how to deal with criticism. Buy it, Try it!
    I actually wrote a short article about dealing with negative criticisms with family members.

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