How to handle your critics: ‘It felt like a slap in the face’

woman with daughters

“An app teaching children a bedtime routine? How about parents do that themselves? What happened to society? I’m not supporting this.” When I received this damning feedback from a blogger after launching my app (which helps children follow a bedtime routine), it felt like a slap in the face.

I’d approached a few bloggers to get the word out and had specifically asked them for a review. This blogger emailed me after refusing to give one. She signed off: “Good luck dumbing down families.”

gwendi klisa
Gwendi Klisa . Photograph: Gwendi Klisa

I leapt from my laptop and started pacing around, muttering under my breath: “You haven’t understood. My app isn’t replacing parents at bedtime. And why do you need to be so rude? Someone’s poured their heart into this.” I was rattled and upset, and felt like firing back an angry reply.

Instead, I took a deep breath and went to eat dinner with my family, which helped me avoid sending a defensive, knee-jerk response. With some time to reflect, I was able to decide on a more sensible approach. I realised the blogger isn’t someone I can win over – she thinks my product is pointless; I think there is a time and place for it. I deleted the offending email and put my kids to bed.

Still, the blogger’s reply stayed with me for a while. Usually I know better than to take criticism personally. I’m trained to detach when reviewing my work. As a graphic designer, feedback is part of my job – I welcome it as a chance to improve.

My experiences at art college changed the way I deal with constructive criticism. I always remember a comment a professor made in his feedback. “I think you’re strong enough to take this, but the work you did for this project is terrible,” he said. I wanted to match his confidence in my strength with a calm approach.

That moment changed the way I deal with criticism. I started believing that I’m robust enough to take it. If I can learn to react productively, you can too. Here are my tips:

Create some distance from your work

You’ve poured heart and soul into your product, naturally you’re now wired to protect it. But if you want to evolve you need to take in the feedback, good and bad.

Learn to separate yourself from your work. Ideally, step away from it, focus on other work, and let the criticism sink in for a couple of days. Now look at your work as if through someone else’s eyes.

Be aware: if the criticism hits a weak spot you may become defensive without realising. If you’re secretly annoyed with yourself about your lack of a particular skill you’ll be touchy about it. There are two cures for this: brush up on that skill or decide it isn’t something you can master and avoid using it in your work.

Take some time out if you start feeling cornered

Someone’s dealt you harsh criticism in a meeting. You’re irritated and about to reply with a disgruntled response, well, how about this to bide you some time: “I’m not sure I understand. Could you elaborate please?” You’ve gained a moment to compose yourself and work out a more measured response. And, if you’re hit with negative feedback via email, grab your chance to calm down. Don’t react immediately. Sleep on it if you can.

gwendi and daughters
Klisa with her daughters. Photograph: gwendi klisa

Get to the bottom of the criticism

Go back to your critic for a discussion. Try to find out more. If that isn’t possible, you could ask yourself questions like these: does the person criticising me have a valid point?, Have I heard this criticism before? If the criticism was delivered in a rude manner, are the points they made still valid?

When it’s OK not to listen

Sometimes you may come to the conclusion that there is nothing constructive in the feedback. Run it past a trusted friend or colleague for a second opinion. If they think it is unfounded, unfair criticism, go ahead and forget about it.

The more you’re putting your business out there, the more feedback you’ll invite. Try to see it as a fun challenge, and an opportunity for debate.

[source :-theguardian]