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.

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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.

20 thoughts on “What to Do with Unfair Criticism

  1. Criticism is always positive, even when the poster is being malicious, insulting, or just plain being a troll. If your post encourages someone to want to react in *any* way—including negative criticism—you have done a great job in engaging your audience. You were able to get them to act because of what you wrote.

  2. Hi Jeff, I often employ the listening technique when I am surrounded by enemies. Just listen and smile, aware of their dangerous underlying motives. Like you said, not everyone is going to like you. So those types of people only get from me a polite smile and a few moments to vent their anger. Hopefully they will go away happier when they feel like someone has heard them out. Their anger has probably nothing to do with you…maybe they have been angry for years and you were just the wrong person at the wrong time. Listen, smile and move on to those people who love you. All the best, Simon

  3. It worried me before when my friend said my writing was awful! He told me he could review over anything I write in the future to avoid me the embarrassment.

    And then I thought I’m the writer with hundreds of readers, he doesn’t even have a GCSE in English, nor read books why would his input help me. I’m putting it down to jealousy or maybe he wanted to seem useful. Opinion is fine but not constructive.,

  4. Just discussing this with a friend today… everyone is a critic or wants to be your editor, the trick is (as the article mentions) to pick out the good advice that has meaning and apply it while taking the rest with a grain of salt. always tell them you appreciate their feedback and the time they took to read your work and formulate a response – the fact that they thought about you and your work after reading it is a complement by itself (your words stuck in their mind). disregard the initial responsive feeling of defense (“who the hell are you to criticize what I’ve written?!”), lay aside your weapon, smile and say thanks. again, good advice from the article – don’t dwell. yes, reflect on it – but don’t let anything deter you from doing what your doing (even better next time); Rhino skin is necessary sometimes.

  5. Wow. Well said! Love this advice. Too often I hear people say to completely ignore it, but I’ve watched myself and others miss valuable feedback that way. Love that you say to listen first, act, and then move on! 🙂 (ALL steps that I struggle with at times, lol!)

  6. What do you do when the person giving you criticism is way off base, or just wrong? You say the sky is blue, and he tells you no, the sky is pink. Let’s say it’s your job to tell people what color the sky happens to be, and you have years of experience doing it. The other guy is blind and has never even seen the sky, but he’s loud and insists you’re wrong, and people listen to him. What then?

  7. The hardest criticism comes from yhe people who’s close to me. I don’t reply much, but silently continuing what I know important to me, and that is to continue what I love.

  8. thank you for this advice. I have recently joined a christian group and the ctiticism was just too much to take.Now after reading article and comments ,my mountain has been moved .Thank you all.

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