What to Do with Unfair Criticism

If you are going to create art, to engage in work worth remembering, don’t forget this one thing. There will always be critics. There will always those who malign, insult, and correct you. And sometimes, you need to listen to them.

Photo Credit: Ani-Bee via Compfight cc

It’s tough to be in the spotlight. It’s difficult to do work that attracts attention, especially when it’s negative. People are always wanting to take a shot at you for something. But if you aspire to make a difference in the world, you will undoubtedly encounter criticism — it’s just that simple.

Knowing what to do when this occurs is half the battle. Sometimes, of course, the criticism is valid. We aren’t perfect and often need correction in order to grow. But other times, it’s not. And what do we do then, when the criticism is unfair? When the words coming from the critics are just unfounded?

Here are five tips on how to respond when this happens:

  1. Say thank you. All feedback is a gift, even when it feels like a weapon. It lets you know what people think of you. Even though it’s hard to hear, negative criticism can be put to good use. So be grateful for it, and let the person know you are (even if you have to discipline yourself to do this). Saying thanks to a critic takes away the wounding power of words and puts you back in control.
  2. Think about it. Reflect and honestly ask yourself: “Is there any merit to this?” If so, apply it. But don’t mull over the critique for weeks without acting. The point is action, not obsession. Think, apply, do.
  3. Acknowledge some truth. Responding to a critique can easily turn into an argument. Try to avoid the temptation of getting defensive, and instead wait 24 hours before reacting. Calm down, collect your thoughts, then give a short, gracious reply. Honestly admit something they said was true and that you are doing your best to work on it.
  4. Get on with your life. Don’t dwell. Delete the email, throw away the note, erase the voicemail, and get back to work. You must keep going, remembering that if you’re doing your job right, there will be haters. Your job is to continue saying things worth criticizing.

Lastly, I just want to say congratulations. If you’re getting criticized, you’re doing something right. Find out what that is, and keep doing it. This means people are listening to you, which is half the battle of being an artist — getting heard.

For those who endeavor to do creative work in the world, whether in business or art, it’s important to remember that the world doesn’t remember those who quietly follow the status quo (feel free to tweet that).

Status quo
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Leaving your mark may leave a few scars, but they will be worth it. So get on with what is yours to do, and don’t give any more credence to critics than you already have.

How do you respond to criticism? Share in the comments.