Handling Criticism: How to Deal with People Judging You and Your Work

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shoutIt doesn’t matter how you choose to live your life — whether you build a business or work a corporate job; have children or choose not to have children; travel the world or live in the same town all of your life; go to the gym 5 times a week or sit on the couch every night — whatever you do, someone will judge you for it.

For one reason or another, someone will find a reason to project their insecurities, their negativity, and their fears onto you and your life, and you’ll have to deal with it.

With that in mind, let’s talk about being judged and criticized. And just for fun, I’ll share some of the most hateful comments I’ve received on my articles. And more importantly, the strategies I use to deal with them.

Here’s what I’ve learned about dealing with the people who judge you, your work, and your goals.

The Biggest Critic in Your Life

It’s easier to complain about the outside critics, but the biggest critic in your life usually lives between your own two ears. Working up the courage to move past your own vulnerability and uncertainty is often the greatest challenge you’ll face on the way to achieving your goals.

When I started my first business, it wasn’t the criticism from outsiders that held me back. It was my own mind worrying that people would think I was a loser because I skipped getting a “real job” to “start some website.” I didn’t tell most of my friends about what I was doing for almost a year because I was so worried about what they would think about it.

When I started writing, it wasn’t the hurtful comments from readers that prevented me from getting started. It was my own fears about what they would think if I wrote about the things I cared about. I wrote my ideas in a private document for a year before I worked up the courage to start sharing them publicly.

Those are just two examples of the types of internal fears and criticism that so often prevent us from getting started on our goals. It can take a lifetime to learn that just because people criticize you doesn’t mean they really care about your choice to do something different. Usually, the haters simply criticize and move on. And that means that you can safely ignore them and continue doing your thing.

But that is easier said than done because we all like to be validated. Some people like it more than others, but everyone wants to be respected and appreciated to some degree. I certainly do. I know that whenever I choose to take a risk and share my work with the world, I wonder about what my friends will think, what my family will think, and how the people around me will see me because of that choice. Will this help my reputation? Will this hurt my reputation? Should I even be worrying about my reputation?

Especially with writing, these questions created an internal struggle for me.

On one hand, I believed in myself and I knew that I wanted to contribute something to the world around me. But on the other hand, I was scared that people wouldn’t approve of my work and would criticize me when I started sharing the things I cared about or believed.

I’ve written previously about the challenge of putting yourself out there by saying, “You can either be judged because you created something or ignored because you left your greatness inside of you.”

Eventually, I decided that it was more important to contribute something to the world than it was to protect myself from criticism.

The Truth About Criticism

The truth about criticism is that it’s almost always in your head.

Here’s an example from my personal experience…

In the last 9 months, my articles have been read by more than 1.2 million people (250,000+ on my site and over 1 million on other sites that publish my work).

Of those people, about 98% of people have read a particular article and moved on with their life. About 2% of people have read an article and decided to become part of our little community by joining my free newsletter. (Thank you! It’s great to have you here!) And about 0.000008% of people have decided to be a jerk and send me a negative comment or email.

Even though the vast majority of readers were positive or neutral about my work, the critics were still heard loud and clear.

Apparently, the tendency to hold onto negative criticism is natural for most people. According to Roy Baumeister and researchers at Florida State University, we remember negative emotions much more strongly and in more vivid detail.

In a research paper titled, “Bad Is Stronger Than Good”, Baumeister summarizes academic studies that prove that we are more likely to remember negative criticism than praise. Baumeister found that even happy people tend to remember more negative events than positive ones. In fact, Baumeister and his team say that it when it comes to your brain, it takes about five positive events to make up for one negative event.

I’ll talk about a strategy for getting over this in a moment. But first, I want to share some of the criticism I’ve received recently.

Pour Me a Glass of Haterade (My Most Hateful Comments)

Each month, there is usually someone who whines about how my articles are totally worthless. For example, one reader recently left a comment saying, “I should have known better than to waste time reading this.”

Another reader so eloquently wrote, “What’s interesting here is the author firmly believes that there are millions of dumb people in this world who believe in this crap.”

At least those people commented on the actual article. Hate mail gets even better when people start ignoring your work entirely and make judgements about you as a person instead.

Earlier this month, someone said that I was clearly “someone with a job with limited travel and without a busy lifestyle. Oh, to have no responsibilities…”

Another kind gentleman just got straight to the point and said, “This author is a waste of skin.”

All of this hate for someone who writes about building better habits, being healthy, and living an adventurous life. Could you imagine if I wrote about something that was actually controversial like politics or religion?

And that brings us to the main point: it doesn’t matter what you do, there will always be someone who finds fault in it. So how do you get over it and move forward anyway? Here’s one approach that might help…

Focus on the Road, Not the Wall

Many racing experts consider Mario Andretti to be the most successful and versatile racing driver of all-time. During his career, Andretti won the Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500, Formula One World Championship and the Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb. He is one of only two drivers in history to win races in Formula One, IndyCar, World Sportscar Championship, and NASCAR.

During an interview with SUCCESS magazine, Andretti was asked for his number one tip for success in race car driving. He said, “Don’t look at the wall. Your car goes where your eyes go.”

When young drivers are starting to race, this is one of the most critical lessons that they learn. When you’re driving at 200mph you need to focus on the road in front of you. If you look at the wall, then you’ll end up hitting it.

The same could be said for your life, your work, and dealing with critics.

Criticism and negativity from other people is like a wall. And if you focus on it, then you’ll run right into it. You’ll get blocked by negative emotions, anger, and self-doubt. Your mind will go where your attention is focused. Criticism and negativity don’t prevent you from reaching the finish line, but they can certainly distract you from it.

However, if you focus on the road in front of you and on moving forward, then you can safely speed past the walls and barriers that are nearby.

This is my preferred approach to criticism. When someone dishes out a negative comment, use that as a signal to recommit to your work and to refocus on the road ahead of you. Some people are determined to take things personally and tear down the work of others. Your life is too short to worry about pleasing those people.

Focus on the road, not the wall.

How to Respond to Haters

Most people need love and acceptance a lot more than they need advice.
—Bob Goff

In rare circumstances, you may want to respond to the people who dish criticism your way. If that’s the case, then I think Gary Vaynerchuk provides a good example of how to do it.

When Vaynerchuk published his best-selling book Crush It, he received dozens of 1-star and 2-star reviews on Amazon. Negative reviewers claimed that the book was “absolutely awful” and called it a “piece of crap with no value whatsoever.”

And this was for a book that was a best-seller!

Rather than fight back and justify his work, Gary decided to respond to many of the negative reviews with a sincere apology. For example, a reader named Frank left a 1-star review for the book in which he complained, ”How did this book ever get published?”

Vaynerchuk responded to him by saying…

Frank I am so so sorry I under delivered for you, I hope to meet u and spend 15 minutes apologizing and answering any questions u may have, I guess I needed more details in there for u, I am so sorry.

Despite using grammar from a high school text message, Vaynerchuk ended up getting Frank’s number and called him to talk things over.

After their conversation, Frank wrote a followup comment on his book review saying, “If Amazon had a people ranking system, I’d have to give Gary 5 stars. One can not help being impressed by someone who gets back to you so quickly and handles criticism so graciously.”

If you’re going to respond to your critics, then getting a response like that should be your goal. Rather than beating the haters back with insults, win them back with sincerity. Most people don’t want to be convinced that your work is wonderful, they just want to know that you care.

Where to Go From Here

I’ve said this many times before, but it bears repeating: I don’t really have anything figured out. I’m not an expert and I don’t have all the answers. I’m still learning to deal with criticism like everyone else.

But in my limited experiences, here’s what I can summarize about dealing with haters.

  1. First and foremost, don’t be the hater. Don’t be the person who tears down someone else’s hard work. The world needs more people who contribute their gifts and share their work and ideas. Working up the courage to do that can be tough. Support the people who display that courage.
  2. If you’re dealing with criticism, then don’t let the wall keep you from seeing the road. Focus on the path ahead. Another way I heard it put recently, “Ignore the boos. They usually come from the cheap seats.”
  3. If you choose to respond to the haters, then surprise them with kindness. You might just win a new fan while you’re at it.
  4. Finally, and most importantly, make the choices that are right for you. People will criticize you either way.
PS: If you liked James’ post about how to deal with critics you might like his scientific guide to saying no, or his article about The Habits of Successful People: They Start Before They Feel Ready
This post originally appeared on JamesClear.com
  • Jürgen Brüder

    My #1 rules is always: React politely and friendly. Never let your temper get the better of you. Don’t feed the troll.

  • http://missionallendale.wordpress.com/ Joey Espinosa

    I love the concept of focusing on the road, not the wall. Honestly, I’ve been criticized a lot recently, more than I expected. But I have to come back to WHY we’re doing the things we’re doing, and which direction we hope to go in.

  • CSheridan

    “focus on the road, not the wall” — I love that!

  • http://dannybrown.me/ Danny Brown

    Nice piece, James. What I’ve followed for pretty much my adult life is pretty simple, but hasn’t let me down yet:

    People will always disagree. If it’s valid, listen and make a decision on any changes. If it’s empty rhetoric, ignore. If you can go home at the end of the day, and look your wife/husband/partner/kids in the eye and know you’ve done nothing that will hurt them or bring shame to them, you’ve done the right thing.

    Everyone else is just a bonus/distraction (delete where applicable).

    Cheers!

  • Mel

    I love this article already and I’ve only read the first four sentences. Kudos, James. You have tapped into an important topic in our lives.

  • misanthrope

    Articles like this are so needed in these days of government led malediction of certain groups of human beings. This really helped me this morning. Thank You.

  • http://www.bloovue.com/ Seyi Taylor

    Great piece James!

  • Harald Harb

    Good advice!

  • Stephen De Kalb

    Nice. Some great lines worthy of never forgetting…

  • Bin Teo

    Thanks for sharing James!

    Love the “Focus on the road, not on the wall” – Reminds me of the law of attraction, where we attract the type of frequencies that we channel our mental energy on.

  • Guest

    Wow. What a wonderful article! Almost everyone lives it and everyone learns from them. But let them be shared in words is a classy job and you did well. Thanks for sharing it. Specially for details of “Focus on the Road, Not the Wall”. Keep sharing!

  • Viral Pandya

    Wow. What a wonderful article! Almost everyone lives it and everyone learns from them. But let them be shared in words is a classy job and you did well. Thanks for sharing it. Especially for details of “Focus on the Road, Not the Wall”. Keep sharing!

  • Loïc

    Great post James. Many thanks for the empowerment, I really needed that today. Cheers!

  • http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL53FA3BC597E85729 Robert Kim

    Brilliant Post.

    But, in most cases, I disagree.

    The few cases I’d agree is when you really are secure and badass enough to shrug off negative comments.

    Most of us are not.

    Those those of you like me who actually gets pissed off and irritated, I think a different approach may be wise. Smash the troll into tiny whimpering bits.

    Here’s why.

    Carrying anger with you ages you and brings on cancer. It destroys relationships. It soils perfectly shiny days. Revenge is sweet. It cures cancer (at least for Walter White).

    There’s an old Bushido maxim, “if he insults you, leave him be. It doesn’t mean you are weak. If he threatens you, let him be. It does not mean you are afraid. If he touches you, kill him”

  • http://ThatGuyKC.com/ ThatGuyKC

    Great insight and advice from the trenches. Thank you, James. Love Bob Goff.

    Keep up the good work. It’s easy to hate the haters. The high road is what separates the adults from the trolls.

  • Phat Phoenix

    Thank you so much for this article, James. It really hit a sore spot here, forcing me to look (more) honestly at the point I’m at in my personal journey, struggling to gather up the courage to actually go ahead and put out some stuff of my own. (Even more tragicomical as I’ve actually spent a sizeable portion of my professional life writing for money, among other things, as a promoter. Go figure. I guess, it just wasn’t “my own” but strangely more disassociated “mercenary” work, which seems to make all the difference.) I’ll take your advice as valuable encouragement and struggle to actually transform it into action. Thank you again. Keep up your work, it matters. :)

  • Shakeel Shafiq

    Great writing, thank you James.

  • Stella Chic

    Just what I needed to hear today. Thank You!

  • Asio

    I’m so happy James, thank you so much, I’m facing the same situation as you faced in the past. This article opened my eyes. Cheers Brother

  • http://www.seoimr.com/ Steve Sharp

    Good stuff!

    1. I’ll try to be less critical of myself.
    2. Spend less energy defending my work.
    3. Focus on the path ahead
    4. Don’t criticize others

    #2, #3 and #4 should be easy but #1 is a challenge

  • Oliver Lloyd

    Great article! It’s an obstacle we all face, and there’ll always be people who like to “troll” others or find something to complain about. We should never lower ourselves to their level and if we respond, respond with dignity and grace.

    That quote “You can either be judged because you created something or ignored because you left your greatness inside of you” had a real impact on me, helping to inspire me to write more and do what I love. Thanks!

  • maryroselyons

    I liked that so much I saved it in my very exclusive “keepers’ folder!

  • http://www.dealangel.com Bob Rogers

    I will never get the 2hrs back I spent reading and re-reading this article… but that’s OK, it was worth it! Thanks, James!

    • angel

      Wow 2 hrs you must not read very well!

  • Abhishek Pariyar

    A very good piece James. This one’s surely going to my ‘self-improvement’ folder. Thanks for sharing.

  • Guest

    People tend to define other people in a way that will make
    Them feel better-when they judge you it is THEIR STORY they are telling Not yours, mostly jealousy and insecurity about their own choices and achievements.This is a well known Ego driven mechanism: judging those who chose differently then you in order to justify your own choices.
    The Ego cannot except the other it will make him wrong!!!
    Don’t feed the troll you are don’t let him distract you from your goals,
    Thanks James

  • Daniel Rieber

    People tend to define others in a way that will make
    Them feel better-when they judge you it is THEIR STORY they are telling Not yours, mostly jealousy and insecurity about their own choices and achievements.This is a well known Ego driven mechanism: judging those who chose differently then you in order to justify your own choices.
    The Ego cannot except the other it will make him wrong!!!
    Don’t feed the troll, don’t let fears, pride or jealousy of others distract you from your own progress, because as you mentioned when they hit, it stays for long..
    Thanks James

  • Ash

    Great article James!

  • Jana

    Thank You James! Well said. Likes, dislikes, no comments, critical comments. It doesn’t matter to me as long as I’m creating good for the world.

  • http://trishgparrish.com/ Trish G Parrish

    Thank you for this piece. While I think criticism is necessary for growth, you bring up a very good point that it doesn’t need to be malicious!

    I also think we need to consider the other side of the spectrum: giving too much false praise in that it encourages more mediocrity.

  • michael

    I would love to read something similar to this but focused on how an introvert can deal with judgement based and biased by character rather than the actual quality of one’s work. I have to deal with preferences for extroverted people over me since they are fully expressive and I’m not.Thanks

  • Kathleen Sweeney

    Very timely, I was just talking with my brother about criticism and the fear of being perceived as a braggart. I like your focus on authenticity in your response (if any) and on sticking to your own path. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.agrotising.com/ Chris Agro – Agrotising, Inc.

    Hi James, I just read this article. Having never read anything that you written in the past I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed it. Not just the message, but the tone. And that’s what I think about @james–clear .

  • http://www.the7thMatrix.com/ Roderick T Faulkner

    Very insightful piece James! I love the wall analogy. Often we focus far too much time on opinions that don’t matter. Still, negative comments can hurt. Personally, I usually choose to ignore the hateful, negative comments of others. Life is too short. However, using kindness on the rare occasions you may choose to engage with a critic is the better path to follow. This article is a perfect read to begin my Monday. Thank you!

  • Kerry Jones

    Great piece, James. I think the key is knowing when to take criticism to heart and when to let it roll off your back. I work with a community of writers and those who view criticism/feedback as an opportunity to grow are the ones who end up most successful.

  • http://www.ryanfmc.co.uk Ryan McNamara

    Nice article on a topic I wouldn’t usually read up on! The only thing I would suggest would be to alter the first ‘in summary’ suggestion. I totally agree with ‘don’t be the hater’ element, there are too many people who will happily do this for you just for the sake of being cruel. However I would always encourage someone to tell the truth and be constructive with their criticism, you can’t learn anything with out feedback.

  • Stephanie Dillard

    Love this article if you’re not careful can stop your growth. Keep it moving!

  • theirmind

    Thank you for such a good article.

  • Ann Mullen

    Between the Wall quote and Gary’s effusive apology, I can’t say I have read a better article. Personally, I am sorry that people would treat others that way. I am sure they would never have done so in person. Thanks for sharing what were some upsetting comments for the good of us all.

  • Happy Chantilly

    Love this article! Completely agree that the best thing to do is to focus on the positive things and always reponse with kindness! Thank you ;)

  • Joel

    Thanks so much James.. What a powerfully inspiring article. Pieces like this should make up a compulsory subject at school.. thanks for seriously brightening my day

  • Katie

    Really great!

    • Beauty

      That was very helpful thanks James Clear

  • CADILLAC HUSTLE

    Good Article

  • ajkumar25

    Recently faced severe criticism This post helped me a lot. Thanks

  • Junsik Whang

    Just read your post about how to deal with criticism. It really helps me a lot personally.

  • Myrgatroid

    Thanks! I so needed this article. Very timely for me. Keep writing!

  • alma cruz

    excellent information to practice every day in life. Thank you to shared this article which is important to learn and we can move on, just in time for me, I found a treasure for my life.

  • Roma

    What you said about the boos coming from the cheap seats reminds me of what a man in Rome, Italy said to me not long ago, “If any Roman people are rude to you, they are descended from the schiavi (slaves) of Ancient Rome.”
    Anyway, I totally agree and am very encouraged by your article.

  • Grace

    This is very helpful! Thank you.

  • Joe

    Holy crap, how did I end reading it up? This is just a pieace of, of…
    Just kidding, nice article.

  • Paula Shee

    Thank you i had a dilemma and you have cleared it up when faced with the critisims i felt misjudged and pretty crap which led me to believe i wouldnt be any good at what i wanted to do but your article has put it into perspective and i will put the comments away and carry on one persons unfounded opinion should not affect me.

  • Joseph Wells

    I’m normally not one to read things as long as this but I must say, 2 words… Nice work

  • Ranjith

    Thank you very much, James. I faced a critic in the gym today who claimed that if I lift more weight I would end up being nothing. It got me very furious though I did not react. Your post lifted my spirits up. I am gonna handle the negative emotions caused by these critics in a better way from now on. Thanks again! – Ran

  • Afeqawonderland

    Omg.. thank you :’) I’m someone who don’t really like reading but I read this article and…. its help me alot. Yesterday I just foud out that my haters confessed their feelling on facebook and its about me. After a few hours, God gave me a sentance that can actually make they realized. Can I post what the sentance I use?

  • Khalil Watson

    I really needed this, today I was criticized for how I played in a video game with people. I left the area feeling angered and spiteful, however now i feel that I can take on the world

  • Felicia

    Great article. Very helpful. Thank you.

  • http://www.lisarobbinyoung.com Lisa Robbin Young

    “the road, not the wall” was a phrase I remembered from early in my twenties. Funny how it keeps coming up for me lately.

  • http://twitter.com/nicoleckohler Nicole Kohler

    So glad this got reshared, what a great post! I can definitely identify with writing in secret for fear of negative feedback: I blogged in a private LiveJournal (showing my age, here) for about a year before switching to Vox, then WordPress. The good feedback definitely outweighed the bad & I regretted waiting so long!

  • Ben Kyle

    Nice article! I love what you wrote and i agree with what you gad to say: I also found a relevant article in relation to this post: http://www.living2succeed.co.za/how-you-can-deal-with-criticism-boost-self-esteem/

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  • mary

    Great article!!!!