how to handle criticism featured image

The Criticism Crashcourse – Why It’s Important & How To Handle It Well

As a designer, developer, or agency owner you will often find you & your work subject to criticism.

Sure, you could easily follow the good old saying that “the client is always right” but that’s the easy way out. Criticism always leaves a mark and is a form of feedback if you know how to handle it well which is exactly what we’ll cover in this guide. 

So without further ado, let’s get into it.

What is Criticism And Why Is It Important?

The reason why learning how to handle criticism is important is that just like any other business owner (or freelancer), you want your business to grow, and one of the most essential things is to learn how to cope with any type of feedback.

Simple Google search will tell you that criticism is “the analysis and judgment of the merits and faults of something”, and that’s correct. However, in order to clarify that even more, we can freely say that criticism is a type of feedback that often holds negative connotations, and it usually highlights the bad sides of the subject.

Work you deliver to your clients is often a subject of criticism, and even though in real life, criticism is partially defined by the tone, that’s usually not the case in the business world, as tone doesn’t play much role when a client says something like “Background picture is really bad and overall theme is not on point.”

Sure, there are multiple types of criticism, but one is sure — you will recognize one when you get one.

Even though no one is practically a fan of being criticized, criticism is an extremely important part of your personal development but also the development of processes and quality of delivery in your company. Without it, you simply wouldn’t be able to level up the standard and therefore to grow in general.

The best way to learn how to deal with all types of criticism is to learn to distinguish criticism from feedback because even though they are similar, they can be (and often are) handled differently.

What Is The Difference Between Criticism and Feedback?

Besides the tone, the main difference between criticism and feedback is that criticism almost always focuses solely on the problem, while feedback covers the problem and potential solutions.

Since the feedback in its form is more complex than criticism (and the fact that criticism is a type of feedback, not the other way around), it’s usually considered as a positive or neutral comment, because those are usually emotions the receiver feels when he gets one.

criticism vs feedback

To clarify the structure even more:

Criticism: “The background motives are not in place, and colors do not match our brand design identity”

Feedback: “This is a good start but we have a lot more to do! Let’s try to change background motives to curvy lines so we can see how that option looks. And also, let’s try to align colors more to our brand design identity”

As you can see, criticism just points out the issues and bad sides, while feedback contains a positive and stimulating narrative, and may offer solutions to the problem.

Knowing by default that everyone (if they got to choose) would prefer to get feedback over the criticism, it’s important to know that not all clients know this difference, and truth to be told, they don’t really care. So it’s completely on you to improve handling criticism because you will likely get it more than feedback.

How To Handle Criticism From Clients

Now that you know why criticism is important and what it actually is, here are the best ways to handle it properly and get the most out of it. 

Be Open to What Client Is Trying To Tell You

Don’t take it close to heart immediately. 

Be open to what the client is trying to tell you and disregard the way he’s trying to tell you.

That way, you’re left with what exactly is the issue, and what’s the next step in the development.

It’s completely normal that you are not on the same wavelengths as your client, that you picture things differently, and that you can’t read your client’s mind. Sometimes they may expect such things from you, which is why it’s important that you define all those things in a web design proposal (https://atarim.io/blog/web-design-proposals/) in the future, but in general, it’s completely normal that your work becomes a victim of bad communication.

Either way, if you get criticism on your work, don’t form the attitude right away — there’s definitely something useful there that you can use to improve everything.

Speaking of attitude…

Control Your Emotions

Removing your bias and objectively assessing criticism means being calm. 

You can’t make a solid, well-informed decision if you’re angry or annoyed. In fact, you may even cloud yourself from advice that might be helpful. Controlling your emotions isn’t the easiest in the world and it’s not everyone’s strong suit.

how to handle criticism

However, what you always can do is step away for a few minutes and cool down. Don’t ever let your emotions take the best out of you, because:

  • You will not make the best decision
  • It’s not professional
  • You will fail to spot key points criticism holds

Once you reach the ability to be objective again, then provide your client with the feedback, and plan the next steps.

Distinguish Constructive From Destructive

There are two types of criticism: constructive and destructive.

Constructive Criticism

Even though constructive criticism still may hold a negative connotation, the reason it’s called constructive is that it focuses on the problem. It highlights the downsides that can be improved and help define the client’s expectations.

With this type of criticism, you can do a lot, which is why it’s important to distinguish it from destructive criticism.

Destructive Criticism

Destructive criticism often comes from frustration and therefore the inability to provide constructive elements that may improve the subject of criticism.

General signs of destructive criticism involve:

  • Baseless accusations
  • Insults on professional and sometimes even on a personal level
  • Client’s inability to point to exact issues
  • Repetitive criticisms without caring about your progress

If you find yourself in a place where criticisms you’re getting are becoming more and more destructive here’s what you should do:

  1. Put a halt on the work — from that point, nothing will be good enough and the productive atmosphere is long gone. 
  2. Calmly reevaluate your working relationship with the client — make sure you’re emotions are off and look for unethical clues of the client’s behavior.
  3. Express your concerns — talk to client directly and let them know that things are not where they’re supposed to be
  4. Try to form a constructive environment — set new foundations of healthy communication and try to get on the same wavelength as your client
  5. If things don’t take a positive turn, cut off the work.

The biggest favor you can do to yourself and the client is to cut things off if it doesn’t work out, even if it’s a super important client or currently your only source of income. And as always, try to part ways in the most polite, respectful, and professional way possible.

Acknowledge Criticism

Even though it may sound similar to being open to what the client is trying to tell you, acknowledging is something different.

Often, clients feel like their feedback or criticism isn’t acknowledged and that designer or developer constantly takes their own path.

This leads to more aggressive criticism that often becomes destructive, and from that point forward, things usually don’t have a happy ending.

Therefore, make sure your client is aware that you acknowledge their criticism. Let them know that you “hear them” or “understand them” and then follow the path of providing feedback or adopting the criticism and working on another solution.

Provide Criticizer With Your Feedback

Once things have settled and you’re able to objectively review the criticism you received, make sure you make your feedback as constructive as possible

If you agree with the criticism let the client know that edits per their request shall be made, but make sure you remember what was the actual issue — document it, and make sure to avoid it in future references as you don’t want to face the same criticism twice.

However, if you assess that criticism you got doesn’t align with your vision or client’s request, make sure to elaborate the best you can why don’t agree with it:

  • Elaborate on your process how you came up with a solution you delivered
  • Elaborate why the solution you delivered is the best solution (use backed-up facts, not opinions)
  • Emphasize spots you believe the client failed to observe

After you do, feel free to ask the client the questions on how he visioned it — that way you may get a better picture of what’s actually needed.

From that point, a constructive dialog should take place where only two scenarios can happen:

  1. The client understands your intentions and adopts your solution
  2. The client persists in making changes he requested 

Either way, you know exactly what to do and the criticism you received turned out to be a learning curve for you (depending on the scenario, either for your work or for your communication skills).

How To Avoid Getting Criticism From Clients

Truth to be told, there’s only one answer to this question — you can’t fully avoid getting criticism. It’s fully normal that your work (regardless of how good is it) simply doesn’t meet someone’s expectations.

However, here are a couple of things you can do to avoid criticism.

Keep a Box of Constructive Ideas

Keep some constructive criticisms safe in a box for future use.

While constructive criticisms are all fair and good, you shouldn’t act on everything that’s supposed to improve your system. 

To be effective and confident in any field, you need to have experience in both success and failure. You should always try to see something through until it fails or it shows signs of failing. 

Some criticisms will come your way that may differ from how you do things now. And, while that may be an improvement, it’s important to see what works best for you or for the problem you’re tackling. You’ll never know which one is the best until you try them all, and you’ll never really try them all if you keep switching from methodology to methodology.

Overcommunicate

If something is not clear, ask. If you need more information, ask. If you need to follow up, do so.

Lack of communication often leads to bad results in the end, and most people avoid asking as they think they will leave a bad impression.

Communication is essential especially in the beginning when you and your client are still “feeling the ground” and getting on the same wavelength. 

You may bore your client a little bit, but they will most certainly appreciate you doing your best to deliver the best results you can.

Also, let them know in the beginning that you may need extra communication for that purpose.

Either way, communication is the key to success in any sphere of business, so don’t be afraid to overcommunicate.

Suggest Using Atarim

This may sound like a regular pitch, but Atarim can truly help avoid getting your work criticized.

Criticisms most often come from bad/lack of communication, poor organization, and in general, the inability of client to tell you what they need exactly.

Atarim is a solution that focuses strictly on improving all processes, making deliveries faster, and having communication on point.

atarim new homepage

With its features, you will be able to let clients literally demonstrate to you with a click what they need, organization of your work (and agency if you have one) is improved by detailed descriptions in a kanban board, and communication via Atarim’s systems is super simple and straight forward. Basically, you have everything in one place!

Check all our features here, and see for yourself how many improved their processes (which definitely resulted in receiving fewer complaints from clients).

Conclusion

Everyone reacts differently to criticism, and since criticism often holds a negative tone, people tend to take things personally.

However, criticisms are pretty much the best thing that can happen to you for your personal and professional development.

Learning how to handle criticism can be a bumpy road but eventually, things will take a positive turn, and you will know how to use criticism for improvement in general.

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