How (Not) To Respond To Criticism

Getting used to feedback about your work takes some getting used to. With a lot of practice, you get used to putting yourself out there and hearing what others have to say about.

Imagine the many tasks you do in your daily life that you would have no defensive response about. If a friend told you that orange is the best color. Sure, we all know that the answer is blue. Most of us wouldn’t correct others about most things. Our defensive reaction is about us. Our feelings about ourselves.

In 2014, Mallory Ortberg wrote an incredible hilarious piece of satire entitled “How to Respond to Criticism”. Every artist, creative, and human needs to hear these! Here are some key highlights:

  • “Stop doing everything. Don’t say anything or be anything. Get as small as you possibly can without disappearing. Don’t exist. Or keep existing, but differently than before.”
  • “Apologize, but don’t really mean it, and plant a seed of secret resentment so deep in your own heart that years later you can’t even remember that you’re the one who nurtured it and made it grow, it seems that much like a native part of you.”
  • “Be sure not to separate the tone of the criticism from the content. If it was said ungracefully, it cannot be true. If it was said reasonably, it cannot be false.”

Here’s an amazing reading of the full post by the author herself:

What techniques help when you receive criticism?

So that’s what you don’t do. Acting on a full reversal of avoiding everything is the best case scenario. Other than avoiding the pitfalls, how can you get the best out of feedback?

Actively seek criticism. Look for the situations, individuals, and relationships in your life that lean toward being both supportive and honest. Talk to experts about specific details. Weigh their ideas and thoughts. Take what works for you and be thankful for the rest.

Learn from their thoughts. Make a positive experience where you’ll learn as much as you can.

Learn to be your own critic. Ask yourself why you think as you do. Explore your wants. From there, plan for the possibilities.

Understand how criticism is a compliment. For whatever reason, this person decided that you are capable of growth. You may not want to grow in the way they specify.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.