Everyone’s a critic so deal with it

17 Jan

One of my favourite interview techniques is to criticize something a candidate has done: their CV or their work or their responses.

I don’t do this to be a jerk, but to learn something.

It’s important to know how someone handles criticism because in this business it’s as much a part of the fabric as the colour black. We traffic in ideas and everyone has an opinion: your co-workers, the clients and the audience.

It doesn’t matter how talented you are, if you view criticism as a personal attack and go all defensive – or worse, offensive – you will exhaust your welcome very quickly.

Dinosaur eating human

Don't view criticism as a personal attack

Learning to handle criticism well just may be the greatest positive change you can make to your skills as an advertising professional.

So how do you go from feeling under siege to benefiting from the criticism?


Someone has a different opinion than you and so you want to change their mind. You want to be right. You want them to see things the way you see them. STOP.

You don’t need to change their mind. You can listen, really listen, to see their point of view. Shut up your mind and your mouth. Then take some time to process it. This is not a sign of weakness but of sagacity. Wise people are always pictured as listening and nodding their heads as they do so – ever notice that?


The response I most dread is the knee-jerk agreement without due consideration. Don’t back down immediately and concede to score points.

Resist the temptation to feel you must agree in order to be well-regarded. Instead listen to the point being made and think about it. I love to hear: “That’s an interesting point. I’m going to think about it.” Rather than a rushed: “Oh I only did that because…”

When you bring an idea to the table, have the guts to stand up beside it and allow scrutiny without feeling you have to rush in to resuscitate it or revise it. There will be time for that.


Candles and rocksGo with the critical flow. Become a leaf on their verbal stream and don’t fight it. Imagine candles and stacked rocks and bamboo mats. Whatever powerful emotions rise up in you (possibly because you hate the guts of the person who is bringing down the criticism), what’s called for is calm and equanimity. You are not the action that is being criticized. You are not the idea.

When you can control your emotional response, you open yourself up to considering the criticism. That’s where growth kicks in. Every person I’ve ever met and every idea I’ve ever come across had room for growth. Constructive criticism is what initiates that process.

When your clients and co-workers feel you can handle their opinions well, they will offer them more freely. Opinions are not always good ones, and not all have to be heeded. But if your stance is hostile to the idea of feedback, you can be sure that you’ve made it as far as you’re going to get.

Feel good about what you bring to the table and relish the process of others helping you shape that further.

And when it’s time for you to be critical of others, a little empathy goes a long way.

You can tell me you think I’m full of crap. I can handle it. I think.


9 Responses to “Everyone’s a critic so deal with it”

  1. Malcolm Scrimger January 17, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

    This is an interesting post. I remember being in a situation where I was not being criticized but being fired from a job. I had been given a letter dismissal a week previous and was unaware that there was anything wrong previously. I really had a hard time trying to get up the nerve to go in and ask what I did wrong. I did and sat down with the Manager and asked why. She told me there were complaints but she did not substantiate them as to what I did wrong. I did ask and nothing was volunteered. How could I have grown and learned from that experience. There was no recourse and I haven’t worked since. I did not get upset with her during the interview and kept my cool and left saddened but did not become verbally angry nor offensive, there would be point in doing that. I tried to use them as a reference for another job but that course of action resulted in not getting that job. It’s been over a year without work.

  2. Doug Brown January 17, 2012 at 3:46 pm #

    It seems wrong that you were not given a straight answer Malcolm. How are you supposed to learn and grow without some disclosure?

  3. margriet aasman January 18, 2012 at 10:06 am #

    I find that I am often on the end ‘critiquing’ or giving an opinion… could be the age thing. I have learned that there is value in almost everything. I challenge myself to find it, point it out, praise it, whatever is necessary to lay the foundation to build on it. It also works when I am receiving criticism. There is usually a valuable nugget you can focus on and work from. This steers away from being negative and often you don’t even need to go there, and it is forgotten… magic.

  4. Doug Brown January 18, 2012 at 10:49 am #

    That’s a fabulous contribution to the subject Margriet. HOW you deliver the critique is an art in itself. I’ve always felt that different strokes work for different folks.

    Another thing i’m certain we will both agree on is that when the individual on the receiving end can sense that you care about them and their development, the critique is much better received. A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, eh?

  5. Anonymous January 19, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    I sent this to my ex and … it didn’t go well. Kidding:)

  6. Doug Brown January 19, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    Did you also contact her anonymously?

  7. Lindy Philip January 19, 2012 at 6:05 pm #

    Nice post Doug. Curious about the above being a “HER”???

  8. Doug Brown January 19, 2012 at 6:13 pm #

    OOPS. Quite right Lindy. I made an erroneous assumption that Anonymous was a him. Here is a less presumptuous response:

    “Did you also contact your ex, be it male or female, (trying to not make any assumptions about sexual preferences!) anonymously?” 😉

  9. Lindy Philip January 20, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

    Good on ya Doug!

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