5 Ways to Handle Criticism like a Pro

The first time I received a rough draft back from a client in my tender early twenties, I almost cried. The document was bathed in blood-red pen marks. How could they change so many things? Why pay me to write in the first place? I almost wanted to give up.

Feedback from clients is part of the writing process. Sometimes it’s all glowing comments (remember those times!), but more often, your client will see many things they want to change. All of the edits can be hard to take. What sets a seasoned writer apart from a beginner is how you decide to take the criticism your work receives. Will you give up? Write an angry email? Or will you take it all in stride?

Here are five tips on handling criticism of your work like a pro:

Tip #1: Say thanks

With every comment or edited sentence, the client is giving you their valuable time and mental space. They are investing themselves in seeing the piece get better. Including “thank you” in your response to their feedback honors the time they have spent reviewing your work.

Tip #2: Don’t take it personally

This one is hard, especially when you’re just starting and haven’t built up a mental scrapbook of good comments to revisit when you need an emotional boost. Take a deep breath, say a quiet thanks for this work, and remind yourself that you and your client are on the same team. You want to give them a piece THEY love. 

Tip #3: Frame pushback thoughtfully

When I worry that an edit will weaken the piece, I frame my pushback carefully. If I’m asking a client to reconsider a point they’ve made, I want to do it in a way that honors their time. The pushback has to be positive and crystal clear: “Thank you for [edit]. I see why it matters for [insert reason], but I’m worried that [consequence] will hurt the piece. How about we consider [alternative solution]?” Presenting an alternative solution provides value for your client and makes it easier for them to move forward with the piece. Less back/forth means more work gets done, and everyone is happier.

Tip #4: Ask questions

If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification. I often do this when drafting scientific journal articles for new clients. A question about something simple can lead to a learning opportunity. For example, when I asked a client why they wanted the reference order changed for comorbidities, they graciously explained which comorbidities mattered most to this particular medical community. This precious tidbit helped me understand the next set of data better.

Asking questions helps you understand your subject better and shows your client you care. Also, once you know why something was taken out or changed, you will be better at not making the same error next time.

Tip #5: Honor your client’s preferences

Clients want good copy that provides return-on-investment. But their preferences differ on how to get there. For example, one day, I got very different feedback from two clients: one wanted me to make their blog completely “agnostic” of their company, and the other wanted me to mention their company more often throughout the piece. Which was right? Both! Their marketing content managers simply had different preferences.

Taking criticism is part of the job, but how you handle it is up to you. Leverage feedback, learn from it, and (please) don’t take it to heart.  

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