As a writer, it’s taken me a long time to not be offended if something I work on isn’t what a client envisioned. I pour my energy and heart into everything I write because this is my absolute dream job, getting to put together interesting content for all kinds of businesses. But just because something I turn in isn’t exactly what a client had in mind, doesn’t mean I didn’t do a good job or that they are directly insulting my skill-set.
Whether you’re a creator, too, or work in a more corporate setting, we all receive feedback, positive and critical, throughout our careers. Nobody is an absolute perfect employee who gets it right every single time. And if you have a hard time hearing it, work is probably pretty miserable. I really, really get it. I spent a lot of time getting my feelings hurt at jobs when I’d receive even the mildest feedback. Because I’m a sensitive person, I took it personally every time and started to figure certain people had it out for me.
It was only when I became a full-time freelancer that I had to start shifting my mindset. Each interaction with a client was a potential lost customer if I couldn’t communicate openly, kindly, and practically. That made me a lot more aware of how I receive feedback and the power in my own response to their view.
I began to realize I had been like the person who can’t take a joke at my own expense, but, you know, in a work environment. People who can’t take the joke are the biggest buzzkills. People who can’t handle professional feedback are overly sensitive. (As a highly sensitive person, I can say that.) I would estimate that, throughout my career, 90 percent of the work I do is satisfactory and solid. Not too shabby; in fact, an A if this was school. If you enjoy what you do and put genuine effort into it, you’re probably around the same percentage. But the 10 percent that requires tweaking or reevaluating—oh, that used to send me into a defensive tailspin.
Does this process sound familiar to anyone? Do you get too emotionally attached to your projects and people’s responses to them? It’s so easy, especially when you complete something and feel utter confidence about it.
But the next time you receive feedback that disappoints or frustrates you, I’d urge you to try a few things that I’ve been practicing. Not only will you feel more levity to let go of negative feelings quickly, but you’ll also be much easier to work with and a stronger employee.
Consider the feedback giver’s point of view: Whether it’s your boss, a client, or a coworker, they’re only looking out for the best outcome for the project. And in most scenarios, you work for or with them, and no one wants to work with someone who’s moody or defensive. They are always providing the feedback with good intentions and because they trust you to honor that feedback.
Take a breath, step back, and determine if what they’re saying holds some accuracy: I used to think I was the grammar QUEEN. If someone asked about a grammatical choice, I would school them and point them to the corresponding AP Stylebook page to back me up. I was a fun gal to work with… But the reality is that every business and publication has its own style, and it’s my job to find that, adhere to it, and create clear content that fits their voice, not my own. Now, I make the change and make note of a client’s style for future projects instead of defending myself to the end of the earth.
Thank them for the honesty: As much as you hate hearing a criticism, I can almost guarantee the criticizer hates giving it—or doesn’t even realize it’s much of a criticism at all. At the end of the day, we are all humans and have feelings. It doesn’t feel good to tell someone they missed the mark, so tell them thank you and that you will work on making the necessary tweaks stat.
Ask questions and clarify why you made certain decisions, if necessary: Sometimes, not always, but sometimes, your initial instincts could end up being the right move after all. If you really think your decision was “right,” ask your boss what prompted them to give a certain response. Make it very clear that you are asking out of curiosity, not defensiveness. Only if they were evidently unaware or misinformed on something, explain your point of view, and (again!) thank them for taking the time to provide their feedback. (Do you see a theme here? Thank you’s are a biggie.)
Make necessary changes, even if it ends up taking double the original time: Now is the part that bruises all of us sensitive creatives to our cores: cutting up our precious work and applying all of the requested changes. Taking the time to get it exactly how Mr. or Ms. Boss requested. Not throwing in even one excuse. And getting it back to them as soon as possible. Because, after all, you work for them, and your graceful compliance will set you up for a lot of trust and future gain. And you will usually end up seeing that their advice was really a good addition to the project! Collaboration is way better than always having to be right.
Practice reminding yourself that it is NOT personal: Because it’s not. The critical-feedback-provider has goals and timelines that they’re just trying to achieve, too. Even if they don’t give their opinion in the kindest of ways, you cannot begin believing it’s targeted at you personally. You only have control over responding with grace and getting your portion of the job done as timely and accurately as possible.
Be welcoming toward future feedback: Now that I’m adapted to accepting feedback, I preemptively ask for it every time I turn in a project. I am purposefully, abundantly clear to clients to let me know if they would like anything moved, changed, or tweaked at all. I’ll say something along the lines of, “Here’s the latest article on TOPIC. If this isn’t exactly how you pictured it, please don’t hesitate to let me know! I am happy to make any changes or edits to be sure you’re completely satisfied with the final draft. Thank you!” This opens up the conversation for them to feel more at ease with sharing their opinion, and allows them to trust that I want to do a good job for them.
What are your biggest strengths and struggles when receiving critical feedback from managers, coworkers, or clients? Let me know in a comment or an email!