Tips for Handling Criticism

How are you doing? I mean really doing? As we head towards the end of another year in the industry how are you feeling about how this one went? As well as you hoped or are you looking forward to putting it behind you? I would love to open up a discussion on something that is rarely discussed in the shiny happy world of social media but that happens to all of us at some point. 

It might happen when you are struggling to do your job as there are additional challenges to face (hello this year’s heatwave/postponements/fuel costs/train strikes!); it might happen at the start of your career while you are building up your skill set and experience, or it might happen when you are years into this trade and you just have an off day, an off client or an off vibe from a wedding.

It’s receiving criticism – maybe you ask for feedback, maybe you get it without asking or maybe it comes as part of a review. But being criticised for your work or your actions can be a tough thing to face. Whether it comes face-to-face or online, our natural instincts can be to become immediately defensive.

It’s not pleasant to hear negative input, especially as we are our businesses – the two things cannot be separated and we often feel like we put a lot of our heart and soul into what we do. None of us are somehow immune to criticism so here are my five Dos and Don’ts for dealing with it.

1. Don’t react straight away.

When your emotions are high, it is unlikely that you will come up with the best resolution. When you’ve calmed down, have a look at what points were made. Could you have done better in the situation being criticised? Nobody is 100% perfect, are there some valid points in the words? We grow more from our mistakes than our triumphs so look for the lessons here.

2. Don’t take it to heart.

As photographers, our businesses are deeply linked to our personalities and so any critique of our work can feel like a personal attack. Chances are that the critic does not know you too well on a personal level so try to see their comments as a chance to improve. You can take it seriously but don’t take it personally.

3. Don’t make excuses.

Yes, there will be factors at play that contributed to whatever has happened but by filling the space with excuses you are denying yourself the opportunity to consider if any changes need to be made. NEVER get into a back-and-forth exchange of points with someone who is not pleased with you in some way. Instead of diffusing any situation, this approach tends to fan the flames. If you have made mistakes, own them and offer some form of compensation.

4. Do understand that it’s often not even about you.

There’s always a bigger picture. Weddings are sometimes an emotional tornado. They can rampage through lives and throw out some things that are not secure. Be conscious that the criticism might be unhappiness from somewhere else that’s being passed to you in the hope that it is diffused. Although that is not a great feeling, it can help to know that you are never going to be able to fix their bigger issue so don’t beat yourself up trying to.

5. Do thank them for their feedback.

This approach is much more likely to resolve an issue than going on the attack. Reputation is something that’s very hard to build but can be very easily damaged. The last thing you want is for the criticisms to go any further. When it’s so easy to rate or review a business online, you need to be in damage limitation mode when you encounter negativity. Expressing gratitude doesn’t show that you agree with them but it does show that you listened to them. Often that’s enough.

Back when I was establishing my wedding photography business I waited tables for a couple of years. During that time, I learned a lot about service and one of the most valuable lessons was that you cannot please some people. This type of person gets a kick out of finding the things to complain about. You could send a chauffeur-driven car to collect them, and serve their dinner on a solid gold dish trying to please them but they would still find something to complain about. That’s actually their weird little happy place.

When you find yourself dealing with criticism and it’s getting to you, visualise yourself coated in Teflon and think I’m not letting any of this stick to me. Picture the words hitting you and sliding off. Deal with it, grow from it, and move on from it. Is this relevant to any of you this year? If so let’s hear from you so anyone feeling emotionally overwhelmed by being in a similar situation can take comfort in the fact that it’s not always like it seems on the outside. I also suggest saving this post to reread any time that you might need it.