Think of the last time your work was criticized by your boss, a customer, or a stranger online. What was your reaction? Was it denial, frustration, or resentment? Let’s admit that nobody likes to receive negative feedback. Usually, situations like this cause stress and destroy your self-confidence. However, the problem is not in the criticism itself (certainly, if it’s constructive), but rather in our emotional response to it.
Criticism is an integral part of development in any profession. Especially in a creative sphere where you have to deal with customers all the time and meet their expectations. Of course, it’s impossible to succeed all the time. So, some advice on how to handle criticism towards your work and find the positive side to it will definitely come in useful.
1. Don’t get carried away by emotions
Everyone knows how unpleasant and traumatic criticism can be from their own experience. This is particularly true for highly sensitive people among creators. One of their key features is the ability to perceive other people’s emotions as their own. It may be both an advantage and a flaw because sometimes, emotions rule over us.
To position yourself as a victim or, on the contrary, to be angry at a person who criticizes you is a road to nowhere. These are the most common reactions to criticism, but they won’t help you in any way. If you feel that you are starting to succumb to them, try a breathing technique to calm down. The easiest way is to try 4-2-4 Breathing Technique, according to which you inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 2 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, and then repeat the whole cycle again. Also, when your emotions get out of control, you can take a little break to recollect yourself or to get your thoughts together.
2. Try to hear the person criticizing you
Perhaps, the biggest wish of those who have become subject to criticism is to stop it as soon as possible. But the best approach in such situations is to make sure it doesn’t happen again. To achieve this, it’s important to be able to hear the person critiquing you. Use the active listening technique, in which you are completely focused on the other person’s words, don’t get distracted by other thoughts or conversations, and show your engagement in the dialog. Also, when it’s hard for you to focus, you can use a “mirroring” method. For that, repeat the talking points in your mind and use them to develop your own questions. This way, you will show your interest in solving the problem.
Ask clarifying questions if some moments were left unexplained. You can use the following pattern: “If I understood correctly, the problem is…”. Such an approach allows you to find out the reason for criticism, and fill in all possible gaps so that you don’t jump to a hasty or wrong conclusion. It’s a sure way to build a constructive dialogue.
3. Don’t take the criticism personal
The main thing you have to remember: it’s not you that people criticize, it’s your work that is not performing properly or doesn’t meet your client’s requirements. This means that if you, for example, created a design that received negative feedback from a customer, it doesn’t make you a bad designer. So, don’t allow contextual assessments to disempower you. One of Stephen King’s first and most famous novels “Carrie” was rejected 30 times by publishers. Did that stop him as a writer? Not in the least! And it shouldn’t stop you either.
And even if you get told you’re not experienced or talented enough as a professional, try not to take it close to heart. First, it’s only their own opinion. Second, this person may be guided by their emotions. Always remember: your self-esteem in no way must depend on someone’s opinion.
4. Be ready to recognize your mistakes
Nobody’s able to perform tasks at the highest level all the time. We can be tired, inattentive, or just unproductive. In addition, when you do everything properly, people usually take it for granted, because obviously, it’s what they expect of you. While unsatisfactory results immediately attract a lot of attention.
Remember that everyone makes mistakes, both newcomers and professionals. No top-ranking talent or top-notch brand is proof against failures. A vivid example is Burger King UK’s online communication campaign for International Women’s Day in 2021. It consisted of several tweets with the first one stating that women belong in the kitchen. This loud statement was only meant to attract the audience’s attention; the following tweets stated that there were only 20% of women among British chefs, and that the company is launching a program that will help women build a career in the restaurant business.
But this approach proved to be disastrous: the majority of users noticed the first tweet only. Needless to say, it caused a big wave of criticism towards the brand for sexism. This case demonstrates that not all work is perceived in the same way. What can we learn here? The best thing you can do in such a situation is recognize your mistakes and apologize if your actions have led to negative consequences.
5. Analyze the remarks you’ve received
You shouldn’t respond to criticism immediately. Moreover, to take out the emotional component, try calmly analyzing the critiques Thank your client for their feedback and arguments provided, and explain that you would like to study them thoroughly. Try to write down the main points of criticism in order to not forget anything and have the opportunity to think everything over later. Try the following exercise: take a piece of paper and divide it in four parts. Use the first part to write down the feedback itself as accurately as possible; in the second part, describe your emotions and everything you don’t agree with; in the third, point out useful things you can take from the feedback; and in the fourth part, list all the steps you can take to change the situation for the better. This method will help you put your thoughts on a constructive track.
Then, you can initiate further discussion. This will show your boss or client that you’ve taken all the comments seriously and are ready to work on your flaws. Prepare your variants of solving the problem and share them. It’s a great opportunity to build partner relationships and turn conflict into teamwork. In addition, at this stage, you can present counter-arguments to the components of criticism you don’t agree with, and expect that your position will be understood.
6. Use criticism as an opportunity for development
We’ve come to the main point: by perceiving and using negative feedback in the right way, you have a powerful tool for self-development and professional success. Criticism is inevitable, especially when it comes to your creative career. However, it should stimulate you, not act as a barrier. And if the criticism is constructive and qualified, it always includes valuable advice or at least a direction for answers.
Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, so turn your negative experience into a positive one by making the criticism a basis for improvement. To learn to handle it like this, you can start with a simple step: ask your boss or customer for feedback more often. For example, if you usually receive feedback on project work, try to agree on every stage of its realization. Thus, you will have full control over the process and receive comments in smaller “doses”. Another effective technique for creators is to find a mentor whose opinion you value; someone who is able to give an objective assessment that focuses on both flaws and strengths.
To sum up
Nobody is able to become a professional without any practice. This is why being receptive to criticism is important for constant improval. You can’t prevent frustrating situations, but it’s up to you how to respond to them. Admit to the fact that it’s ok to make mistakes. There’s always room for growth, and only those who learn can achieve success. So, incorporate our tips to develop a good attitude towards criticism. Through practice, you’ll notice that a lot of good can come out of negative situations.
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