How to Handle Criticism Like a Pro

In a perfect world, our average workday would go something like this:

  1. Make art.
  2. Get showered with praise.
  3. Earn endless word-of-mouth referrals.
  4. Repeat.

Unfortunately, we all occasionally encounter someone who didn’t seem to get the memo about Step 2. And try as you may to channel Taylor Swift, sometimes it’s really hard to shake off the haters. After all, when your business is built on your art, it doesn’t matter if someone’s just complaining about your pricing or your policies or the rare service snafu – it’s hard NOT to take it personally.

But before you react, take a deep breath and read over these tips for handling criticism with grace, bouncing back, and doing damage repair to your reputation.

If a fellow photographer critiques your work…

Assuming their comment was constructive and they took the time to suggest ways to improve it, thank them for their input. Once you get past the initial sting, realize that they took the time to formulate a helpful and tactful opinion – which means they see potential in your work. This doesn’t mean they think your work is bad. Everyone has the potential to be better. Ask the best photographers in the world what they want to improve upon, and chances are, they’ll have an answer. Praise is good for your ego, but it won’t push you to the next level. Criticism plays an important role in the growth of your business.

If someone flat-out bashes an image, ask what they’d do to improve it. You may get a useful piece of advice, or you may realize they’re just trolling. Either way, you’ll feel better than if you simply internalize the negativity.

And if someone criticizes a client’s photo on your business page, by all means, delete their comment and send them a note explaining that you prefer to keep interactions on your business page positive and client-focused. As a business owner, you have the right to control your own content. If it happens again, ban them. Criticism has its place, but that place isn’t on a client’s family portrait.

If a friend says you’re too expensive…

Ask for more information. As the saying goes, “Don’t believe everything you think.” You might think she’s saying your work is lackluster and you’re not worth the money, but she might just mean she personally can’t afford you. If you’re friends, there’s no reason you can’t be honest: “That’s actually standard pricing for the industry, so when you say I’m too expensive, it makes me feel like you think my work is substandard.”  A supportive friend will be quick to clarify – and quick to ice your bruised ego.

If a client leaves a bad review online…

First, don’t panic. If it’s the lone complaint in a sea of glowing reviews, most people will skim over it anyway. Your best bet is to respond quickly, professionally, and concisely. You might be fuming on the inside, but make sure your response is based in facts. (An angry, typo-ridden, caps-locked reply will only raise more red flags for a potential customer.) Play devil’s advocate: Is there anything in their review that you can agree is valid? Start by acknowledging that. Recap any efforts you’ve already made to offer them a solution, and end on a positive note. Brevity is your friend; the more you write, the more time a potential client will spend reading about the drama rather than moving on to the next (rave) review.

If someone slams you on social media…

Take your hands off the keyboard. Whether it’s a client, a competitor, or a local vendor, resist the urge to get caught up in a flame war or retaliate with your own nasty post. Instead, give it 24 hours and see what happens. Maybe others will jump to your defense. Maybe the comment will get lost in the shuffle. (You know how hard it is to get views on your Facebook posts? That still applies, even if you feel like everyone in the world must have seen it.) Remember, most clients aren’t entrenched in the photography community, so responding via your blog or business page could actually draw more attention to a comment that you’d rather have disappear.

If the mean comment still has traction tomorrow, you can opt to respond. But, much like the negative reviews, you’ll want to keep it short, sweet, and factual. In a worst-case scenario, you may need to seek legal action for defamation – but usually, if you take the high road and focus on sharing gorgeous photos, the drama will fizzle out pretty quickly and the negativity will get buried among the usual compliments.

Criticism is one of the not-so-fun parts of running a creative business, but don’t let a bruised ego affect your professionalism. If you get negative feedback about an image or a bad review from an unhappy client, respond politely and explain your position without stooping to petty arguments. In the end, the way you respond to criticism will make a much bigger impression on others than the critique itself.




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