Can you learn to love painful criticism?

As I’ve said in the past, I used to work in advertising.

In those days, when market research supported my creative work it was the best thing in the world.

Market Researchers? What a noble profession. What perfect people to prove that your way is the only way.

However when the researchers came back and reported that the public would rather stick pins in their eyes than be exposed to my advertising, well, what did they know?

What use is research anyway? Those who understand advertising, do advertising. Those who don’t, go into market research.



Over time, you’re supposed to get better at accepting the stinging rebukes that only a focus group fuelled on Pringles and warm white wine can unleash on your lovingly crafted storyboards.

But of course the truth is that it always hurts, even if you show it less than you once did.

Tears in the boardroom are so unprofessional.

Now and then, their barbed comments were unjustified.

Maybe the facilitator had turned up late, or someone in the group had wound up everyone else.

Perhaps they were really disappointed with the Sauvignon Blanc.

Generally (and sadly) though, they usually had a point, even if they expressed it rather vitriolically.

Handling criticism from others is never easy, especially if you happen to be at a low ebb yourself, so perhaps it can help to recall what I learnt at the pointy end of market research debriefs:

1. They’re not having a go at you, just at the work. When someone criticises you, try to view it as a comment about some aspect of your overall makeup which isn’t actually the core you. ‘You’re always moody’ might be partly true, but for a start it’s probably not ‘always’, and in any case your low mood is a behaviour rather than a fundamental part of what makes you. So even though it’s most unfair, see if you can view it as them moaning about your ‘work’ rather than about you per se.

2. It’s up to you to choose how much notice you take. Reporters say they always ignore readers’ letters written in green ink. Some people moan and groan simply for the sake of it, and have a pop at you while they also grumble about everything else in life. If you can, take little notice of feedback from this type of unhelpful person. In any case, though, you really can choose to turn your back on anything that’s said to you. At the end of the day you’ve probably got much more power over this than you may sometimes believe.

3. By and large they’re saying it because they want to help. With the exception of the professional moaners referenced above, a lot of criticism is levelled because the person making it wants to see things change. They want people and businesses to do a better job. They want the world to be a sunnier place. Nearly always, look behind the flak and you’ll find an element of truth. If you choose, learn from it and – if you wish – act on it.

Meanwhile to the lady who, in a focus group years ago, grumbled that the family I’d sketched on one of my concept boards looked like Martians, I can only say ‘Madam, you were quite right’.

2 thoughts on “Can you learn to love painful criticism?

  1. So important to remember not to take things too personally, especially in a work context. Your job isn’t the same as your identity, although it may form part of it.

  2. Love this mornings nudge…a lot of truth in there and must try harder to see behind the comments, complaints and grumbles….thank you for todays post. x

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