How to Manage Criticism Effectively

14 Dec

How to Manage Criticism Effectively

We creative people are familiar with criticism. We get it almost every day from clients, bosses and other people who "know better." They criticize our work, decisions and ideas about design, development, writing and other creative endeavors.

Typically, when we’re being criticized, we feel uncomfortable. We feel a concrete wall rising around us, blood filling our eyes and steam emanating from our head. Okay, maybe it’s not exactly like that, but it’s close. Am I right?

Criticism, like everything else in the universe, has its own energy, and it’s palpable; being criticized is unpleasant, and the negative vibes flow.

How can we go with the flow and change the negative feelings into positive results? We’ll talk about that in this article.

A Lesson from Aikido

Aikido is a Japanese martial art. The word means "the Way of unifying life energy" or "the Way of harmonious spirit." Aikido was developed with one goal: that practitioners be able to defend themselves and simultaneously protect their attacker from injury.

Rather than attempting to oppose the force of an attack, an aikido practitioner incorporates the energy and momentum of their attacker’s moves and redirects it. It requires less physical strength than other martial arts, but much skill.


Let’s imagine that you are an aikido master under attack–by which I mean that you have done a great job at work but are being criticized. What’s the smartest thing to do?

Look at the criticism as a form of assistance and turn it into a learning tool. Defend yourself without getting into a fight with your client, spoiling your relationship with him and, ultimately, losing them entirely. I can’t tell you that changing your attitude toward criticism is easy, but it’s certainly achievable (though it might take time).

Look at the truth in the criticism, not just the manner it’s delivered in. If you do, it could help you fix mistakes in your work and learn from them.

Four Steps for Processing Criticisms

Here are four simple steps you can take to understand and act on criticism.

Step 1: Determine the Purpose of the Criticism

The purpose is likely either constructive or destructive; the former is meant to advise and help you optimize your work, and the latter is to point out your shortcomings (usually stemming from envy or the other’s desire to assert their authority at your expense).

If the criticism is destructive and has only to do with personal interest, then ignore and forget it. If it’s constructive, move on to the next step.

Step 2: Analyze the Validity of the Criticism

Think about it, and then think about it again. Determine which of the critic’s suggestions you can adopt and which are unfeasible to act on. Usually, though, the reason for not taking good advice is rooted in the peculiarities of our personality: ideological, religious, political, aesthetic or technological (the last two are the most common reasons for us professionals).

Step 3: Define the Corrective Action (If Needed)

Once you have determined that the purpose of the criticism is constructive and you’ve thought about the validity of the criticism, correct your work as needed. After you’ve considered the suggestions, get to work. Don’t doubt yourself; all doubts should have been left behind in the second step.

If you determine that there is no corrective action needed, explain your decision to the person that provided you the feedback.

Step 4: Learn from the Critique

When your great work is done, and you’ve received praise and emotional and material gratification, think of everything you have learned during the corrective action you took. Write it down in a journal, codify it into your workflow, and look at the corrective action as an additional tool in your arsenal. Create an algorithm that will help you follow the optimal path in the future.

Tips and Ideas for Criticism Management

Here are some tips and things to keep in mind for managing criticism and feedback.

  • Slow down and process the criticism before you let your knee-jerk reaction respond to the criticism. Sleep on it, and think about what was said.
  • Most people that provide you constructive criticism believe in your ability to improve; otherwise, they wouldn’t bother and waste their time.
  • The most valuable criticism finds imperfection in what seems normal.
  • Don’t waste time feeling offended and angry. If the criticism is valid, take corrective actions. If not, forget about it.
  • Defend yourself, but be honest–don’t distort the facts just to save face.
  • If you have had to restrain yourself, it means you have overcome the urge to snap back. This is a sign of strength.
  • Criticism might show you what the critic really thinks of you.
  • To take criticism with an open mind is to take responsibility for your work; both its strengths and weaknesses.
  • If your critic is, in fact, wrong, don’t rush to rebuke him. Instead, encourage his desire to help you.

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About the Author

Vlad Novikov (@VladNovo) is a front-end and WordPress theme developer who loves everything about the process of website creation. He’s also an amateur photographer, guitarist, husband and newbie father. He recently founded the Portfolior, which you can follow on Twitter: @portfolior.