Responding to criticism effectively can be challenging when dealing with clients, but these tips can help you assess and answer criticism in a professional manner.
Focus on the Objective
Make sure you are clear on the objective of the project as a whole and its individual components. If you’ve missed the objective in some way, the adjustments the client is asking for may be needed to more closely match the goal.
However, at times the objective of the project may be clear to you but a little more fuzzy for the client and his or her critique may reflect that. Make sure the client is clear on the objective and politely communicate how critique elements may negatively impact the project if changed. Back up your reasoning with research or expertise.
Be Specific and Take Action
If you disagree with a critique, explain concisely why you see it differently without attacking the client’s point of view. Being defensive or arguing hurts your professional image and is unproductive.
Take action on valid, specific criticism. Don’t be afraid to tell a client he or she is right or made a good point. Arguing based on ego will quickly lose return business with a client.
Assess Criticism for Merit
Determine what criticism is constructive and has merit and which is not. You can do this be asking a few questions.
Is the critique specific? If it is clear, logical, and defined, it most likely has merit because the client has thought deeply about it.
Is the critique actionable? Constructive criticism provides a path to correct or improve an element. If a client simply says they don’t like something, work with them to figure out why. The “why” provides a path to move forward.
Is the critique objective? When feedback is unbiased, it is much more useful. Consider the client’s perspective and why they feel the way they do. If the feedback is rational and appropriate, it usually has merit.
Think Before You React
Never respond to criticism automatically. Your first reaction is often the harshest and most difficult to moderate into a polite and professional response. Step away and take a breath to clear your mind in order to think rationally.
Reread the critique when you are more calm and note which points have merit and which don’t. Evaluate why some do not have merit and make sure ego isn’t the main reason.
Write out a response covering all points of critique. Accept those that have merit and address how you will correct them. Use logic, facts, and research in your response to those that do not have merit as if you were writing a literature review.
Do not respond by being defensive or attacking. This alienates the client and is unprofessional. Always be polite and professional.
Working with clients can be frustrating, however, you must never take it out on the client.
Alternative ways to handle criticism include:
- Writing out your frustrations (pen and paper often work best for added physical element).
- Talking to a friend (without divulging specifics that would compromise client confidentiality)
- Doing a physical activity like taking a walk or exercising
- Talking to another provider and asking for advice if the client is proving more difficult to work with than you know how to handle or you reach an impasse
Remember Whose Project It Is
The project is not yours. It’s the client’s.
You are helping them bring their concept to fruition, not creating your own book or cover design.
The most important aspect is that the client is happy with the end result. Strive for high-quality work, but be willing to bend to the client’s wishes to ensure their project is what they wanted it to be in the end.
Your job is to offer expert guidance, but the final decisions are the client’s, not yours. Personal preference should not factor into advice about changes or revisions. Stick with research, data, and industry trends.
“The client is always right” isn’t always literally true, but presenting suggestions in a way that allows the client to make the best decision for the project can make it true and make the project and relationship a success.