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Productivity / Problem solving

How well do you handle criticism? 5 simple strategies

The reality is that if you run a business there will be times when you will face criticism. As tough as this can be, we have to learn to cope. Here are 5 simple strategies for handling criticism in a less personal way.

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I’ve seen people handle criticism really badly (and I mean really badly). Of course it’s often about how it is delivered. But if we take the style of delivery out of the equation, we have to be mature enough to learn from criticism directed at us.

From my experience, I tend to get the most grumpy about criticism when I know the other person is right, and I’m really disappointed with myself. Hence I go on the defensive, all the while knowing that deep down I’m really grumpy with myself.

Here are five simple ideas that you might find helpful when handling criticism:

1. Remove the emotion and be analytical

It is hard not to get emotional if someone is criticising you or your business in general. But we need to learn to take the emotion out of play and look at the facts. Instead of reacting, try being impartial or even better, put yourself in the customer’s shoes.

"Do you curl up in the foetal position whenever someone is critical of your business?"

Do they have a fair point? Have you promised something but failed to deliver?

2. Accept that you can’t keep all of the people happy all of the time

When starting out in business our aim is to keep everyone happy. The thought of an unhappy customer is quite devastating and a critical interaction with a grumpy customer can really destroy our confidence. But as we get a bit older, and more experienced, we realise that you just can’t please some people. And in fact, some people are really difficult to deal with.

Now I don’t want this to sound like a cop out, it isn’t, it is just the honest reality of life. Don’t take this approach as home base, it is the last resort when it comes to trying to fix a situation with an unhappy customer, but is an option.

3. Take any steps possible to stop it happening again

One of the most important outcomes from any critical encounter is hopefully some clarity around how you can avoid the situation happening again. Perhaps you need to manage the customer expectations a little better, or perhaps there are some systems that need to be improved. Regardless of the details, we need to learn from any experience, even if the customer is being unreasonable (see the point above).

4. Reframe criticism as an opportunity

Whenever I am dealing with some form of criticism I always take time out after the event to sit quietly and really think about the situation. What could I have done differently? What have I learned from this experience? What can I do to avoid it happening again? By taking this approach I tend to find that during a bout of criticism I am not quite as affected by it as I am thinking about my ‘strategic review’ of the situation as my own debrief that I can use to get better at what I do.

5. Mistakes happen. Remember you are only human.

At the end of the day, we are only human and sometimes we get things wrong. We don’t set out to disappoint a customer, but it happens. We can beat ourselves up for months, or we can simply say we tried our best (assuming you did), but we are human and sometimes we make mistakes. And remember, mistakes or failures are where we learn a lot more about ourselves than most other situations, so they are not all bad.

As much as we would like to never have to deal with criticism, sadly we will. Hopefully these simple strategies might take a bit of the sting out of the criticism and turn it into something you can use to make your business stronger and more competitive.

Andrew Griffiths

has developed an international reputation as one of the leading global entrepreneurial authorities. His books and articles are considered street smart wisdom, designed to both inspire and challenge conventional thinking.

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