How to Take A Punch: 6 Ways to Harness Criticism to Grow Your Business

How to Take A Punch 6 Ways to Harness Criticism to Grow Your Business (1)

One thing I have come to realize in the past few years is that very few people know how to take criticism. It’s not their fault. They’ve just never been taught. We live in a culture where criticism, no matter who it comes from or how it’s framed, is often seen as offensive. The internet has given us the ability to share our work and message to more people than ever before. But what many have failed to understand is when you publish your work, you open yourself up to criticism. The faster you grow and the larger your audience gets, the more criticism you will face. So let’s explore how we can channel this criticism, the good and the bad, and use it to motivate and grow our businesses!

You come on with a come on, you don’t fight fair

But that’s okay, see if I care!

Knock me down, it’s all in vain

I’ll get right back on my feet again!

Pat Benatar

So your business is starting to gain some momentum online. Your site traffic is up, you are generating leads and you are feeling great. Then it happens. You get a notification that someone has reviewed your business. You click and read the comment and your heart sinks. You remember this customer and you did everything you could to please them and what do you get in return? A bad review. Your disappointment turns to anger and you start to write your rebuttal. Right before you hit submit, you pause and question whether or not to post.

This is something nearly every business owner who has built an online presence has experienced and if you haven’t yet, you probably will. It’s easy to let emotions take over and try to defend ourselves, but I have yet to see this approach work for the business. Bad reviews and critics are part of life whether we like it or not. What’s worse is that much of the critics online are anonymous. As business owners and leaders, we have to learn how to take a punch and redirect this feedback into positive momentum.

In “Show You Work!” by Austin Kleon, he devotes an entire chapter to dealing with critics. He states, “The trouble with imaginative people is that we’re good at picturing the worst that could happen to us. Fear is often just the imagination taking a wrong turn. Bad criticism is not the end of the world. As far as I know, no one ever died from a bad review.”

The truth is, you won’t die from a bad review, and neither will your business. In college, I minored in art, and the lessons I learned in the studio classes have proven to be priceless. Each week we would show our work, and the other students would rip it apart. Below are some life lessons I have found to be invaluable for growing my business from that process.

1. Listening is Key

Let’s be honest, we all love the nice, fluffy, overtly-joyful reviews. They make us feel good and inflate our egos. There is nothing wrong with this, as long as we don’t let it go to our heads. But there is a lot we can learn if we listen to the pushback as well. There is some truth in every critique. It’s easy to just ignore the bad critics and cling to the positive. But what if their argument is valid? What if you could have done something different? Sometimes we can use the negative to look at our work and business through another person’s lens. The key is to listen, think about what they’ve said and then make a smart decision about what to do next. There are times when I had to listen to others tear my work apart and came to the realization that they were right. It’s humbling, but it also allowed me to adjust my approach and deliver a better product.

2. Finding Your Balance

While listening is important, there are those of us who can get stuck in the negativity. Read the reviews, but don’t obsess over them. There is a time when you need to stop listening and get back to work. Some people will never be pleased no matter what you do, so learning to find balance and decipher between legitimate and illegitimate reviews is important.

3. Develop Thick Skin

The more you grow, the more critiques you will get. That’s the way it works. Developing thick skin will help you stay motivated and focused on what’s actually important. The truth is, the more criticism you take, the more you realize it actually can’t hurt you. As the saying goes, “Haters gonna hate.” But you, as the business owner, get to decide what you do about it. You can get hit and stay down, or you can pick yourself up and push harder!

4. Respond Don’t React

Too many businesses react to critiques. They overly trust the good ones and let the negative ones control their actions. Both of these responses are dangerous. You are the leader. You have an audience that you want to reach. Yes, you need to listen to feedback. However, if you are proactive in connecting with your audience and a majority of them are responding positively, why would you allow one angry customer to change who you are? Never react in anger. This will only solidify the negative review. If, and that’s a big if, you do feel like you need to respond, validate their concerns, and state the truth. Never accuse or condemn. Taking the higher road pays off, and others who may see the negative review will see that you actually care.

5. Protect Yourself

Sometimes you need to protect yourself. If there is something that you are emotionally attached to and you aren’t ready for criticism, don’t share it.  That’s the only way to avoid criticism. But don’t wait forever. “Compulsive avoidance of embarrassment is a form of suicide,” says writer Colin Marshall. At some point, we just have to put our work out there and not let the critics hold us back.

6. It’s Not Personal

One of the hardest things to do is not take a critique personally. When it comes to our businesses, many of us have invested our lives into seeing them grow and become what we’ve always dreamed they could be. It is healthy to remind ourselves that our work is what we do, not who we are. “The trick is not caring what everybody thinks of you and just caring about what the right people think of you.” – Brian Michael Bendis. This quote is more powerful than many of us realize. We need to look at who is giving us the critique. If they are the “right” person, we need to listen and learn. If they aren’t, we need to ignore them. It’s only personal if we take it that way.

The goal of an honest critique is to challenge the other person to see their world from a different perspective. In an era where everyone thinks they are a critic, we must be careful whose voice we allow into our lives. As Austin Kleon states in “Show Your Work”, you shouldn’t feed the trolls. Trolls are people who aren’t interested in improving your work. They just want to create chaos. Your work matters, and letting others speak about it is the best way to sharpen your skills and get better at what you do. Keep taking the punches, and don’t be afraid to throw a few back!

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SMA Marketing Global Digital Marketing Agency Ryan Shelley Founder and CEO Headshot
Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works have also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

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