ASK US WEDNESDAY: “I’m terrible at dealing with feedback. Any advice?”

by Leo Wiles
30 August 2017

Hey Rachel and Leo. I have an issue. How can you become better at dealing with feedback – whether it’s from your boss, a client, an editor? I’m already an anxious person and any negative comments just topple me. It makes freelancing (which I love) so difficult. Anon

Being a creative soul who labours over each phrase and punctuation mark, it can be incredibly difficult to see less-than-glowing feedback as constructive criticism. However, it’s important that we do learn to listen; truly listen to what clients or readers have to say. By doing so, we can change habits that stunt us professionally – and allow clients to feel heard (and with any luck, choose to work with us again!).

Obviously, I’m not talking about mean comments from snarks, naysayers or trolls. People in these categories should immediately be ignored/laughed at and/or blocked. And on that note, tread carefully with clients (especially the kind that like to talk about non-existent faults to delay or flat-out NOT pay you). Starting a long trail of back’n’forth in a quest to convince an idiot that you’re in the right will just end up making you look and feel bad. Or as Unmarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging author Scott Stratten puts it: ‘Don’t try to win over the haters. You’re not the jackass whisperer.’ 

Ultimately we cannot change how others feel, what they say or how well / badly they say it.  But we can change how we respond to it, internalise it, learn from it and decide when to let go, and choose we let it change us – these factors are within your grasp. Starting out blunt or badly thought out criticism, normally form our nearest and dearest, can really dent your ego and make you wonder why the hell you gave up a full time job with super, holiday and sick pay as there’s no section head or editor to hide behind.

But even as a newbie, it’s important to see the comments for what they are – often the droppings of a person who is gravely unhappy with their life and or lot, who is far happier critiquing than creating, or a relative that is just plain worried that you gave up a job with perks for an exciting new unstable career path.

Receiving honest feedback from clients however is absolute gold for fine-tuning our services, and without it you won’t know if a client is really happy with your work. So you need to embrace it no matter how hard it is to hear. And, in an industry where you’re only as good as the last commission and word of mouth referrals are everything, it’s essential to be seen to be open enough to receive it, without making the other person feel awkward.

I received some the other day about the hue of my blue and thanked the client when I realised my screen was long over due to be calibrated. It hadn’t been showing me the true output colours of my images – a massive fail for a photographer.

One of the best ways I have found to deal with this sense of deflation is to share war stories with Rach or regrouping by seeing rich famous beautiful people reading mean tweets about themselves on Jimmy Kimmel Live!

Because all creative people who put themselves in the spotlight are immediately opening themselves up to criticism.  The only way to avoid it, Aristotle believed, was to ‘say nothing, do nothing, be nothing’.

How do you deal with criticism? Do you take it as a learning experience, or go to pieces?

Leo Wiles

Leo Wiles has worked as an editor, journalist and PR for over 20 years before recently retraining as a photographer. These days, she spends her time behind a lens, juggling her own clients with her work at Rachel's List, and her three gorgeous but lively kids.

2 responses on "ASK US WEDNESDAY: “I’m terrible at dealing with feedback. Any advice?”"

  1. I don’t respond straightaway to the client and give myself time to digest the feedback. I step away from my computer and re-read the email a few hours later. I find this helps to make my work better rather than going on the defensive.

    1. Rachel says:

      Great advice Rashida – so tempting to bang out a knee-jerk response but can cause more damage in the long run!

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