How to Deal with Criticism

I wrote about The Lively Show earlier this week. Here's another episode I couldn't resist sharing.

In her interview with life coach and author Tara Mohr, Jess Lively discusses the art of "not taking it personally." 

As a writer herself, Tara's words resonate in a big way. She recognizes firsthand that with any creative pursuit, you put your heart on display. When you pull back the curtain of your soul, hearing criticism can be difficult.  

She offers some excellent advice on how to deal with criticism and praise.

Treat Feedback as Data

Tara advises we first ask—What does the feedback tell me about the person making the critique?

For example, if 10 people love your painting, it doesn’t mean your painting is inherently good. It simply means those 10 people love your technique and artistic approach.

Conversely, if 10 people hate your painting, it doesn’t mean you have no talent as an artist. It simply means those 10 people have tastes different from your own. 

The key here is to take people’s reactions as data (about their preferences, their needs, their expectations, their style), rather than as a reflection of your merit or talent. This way, you can incorporate feedback as strategic information, rather than making it personal.

Question Your Assumptions

Another good practice is to ask—What am I making this mean? In other words, what is your interpretation of someone’s reaction? For example, if a client doesn't return your phone call, you may think she is unhappy with your service. 

Name your current interpretation. Then, brainstorm several alternate realities to see that the reason could be entirely different from what you’re imagining. Perhaps the client had a family emergency. Perhaps her phone is lost. Perhaps a child played with the phone and she never received your message. 

This inquiry process helps you question your assumptions and avoid going directly to a negative interpretation.

Recognize that All Great Work is Criticized

Her final recommendation is to find your favorite book on Amazon and toggle back and forth between the best and worst reviews. By doing this, you see how people praise and criticize the very same aspects of the writer’s work.

This is an effective training ground to learn that all work will bring a range of reactions. Negative reactions don’t mean anything is inherently wrong with the work itself, it is simply one group's response to it.

I hope these tips will help you in your creative work, or with any criticism at all. The most important lesson I'd add? Never stop creating.  That's the only way to close the gap between your current work and your best work. Onward!