When you are starting out as an entrepreneur and just getting your business venture off the ground, you will find that there is an almost over-abundance of people ready to critique you and your business. Heck, this happens even after you’ve been in business for 10 years or have launched 20 businesses! Cynical sounding, I know, but it’s true.

But wait!! I’m not being entirely cynical because to me, there are two different types of criticism, constructive (helpful) and destructive (harmful).

What’s the difference?

Constructive criticism is designed to be helpful and is based on valid facts/observations. It’s meant to help you & your business to grow and become stronger. It’s not always positive, but even negative criticism can help you to see things in a new light (i.e. a production method, or a pitch strategy). The critic is almost always giving it based on their personal & professional experience, and because they genuinely want to help out.

Constructive criticism is also:

  • Educational (or at least intended to be);
  • Related to the issue/task at hand;
  • Helps to build on or bolster an idea, and;
  • Is intended to better the person/business.

Destructive criticism is designed strictly to ridicule and cause harm. The critic’s aim is to destroy, belittle and embarrass. There is no upside or way to put a positive spin on what is said/written, because the critic absolutely does not have you or your business’ best interest. It is destructive criticism that gives people a fear of criticism in general and what gives it criticism itself a bad name.

Destructive criticism also:

  • Often makes a person feel like they themselves are being attacked;
  • Tears apart/down an idea;
  • Is often not well thought out and spouted out rapidly & randomly, and;
  • Is sometimes intended for the person to feel so miserable about themselves and/or their business that they give up, which gives the destroyer the chance to take over.

How should I respond to criticism?

The Muse, a contributor for Forbes Magazine, wraps it up in as neat a bow as I could, so here are their ways to take criticism like a champion, with my comments beneath:

  1. Stop your first reaction.
    • Keep yourself (face, voice, and body language) neutral.
    • If your first reaction to criticism is to either burst into tears (me in my younger years) or to get mad, it can damage your reputation and constructive critics will be less likely to want to give you the criticism in the future for fear of you having the same reaction. Destructive critics will see it as a win because they really want to see if they can get a rise out of you.
  2. Remember how beneficial feedback is.
    • Feedback can only make you and your business stronger.
    • If it is constructive feedback, take what they have to say into deep consideration when making decisions about the topic/issue in question. If it is destructive feedback, take it and rise above it. Use it as a motivator to push yourself and prove that person wrong!
  3. Listen to understand (not just to respond).
    • Listen closely to what the person has to say, and allow them to finish full thoughts before responding. Take short notes if you want to make sure that you don’t miss anything (stick to bullet points or key words).
    • After they are done, paraphrase what they said to make sure that you fully understand what they are intending to say. This shows the constructive critic that you value what they have to say, and it might make the destructive critic think twice about what they have to say (in the event that it was said in the heat of the moment) and so they can see that you were fully listening.
  4. Thank them for their comments.
    • Show them that you value their comments (even if you don’t agree with them, which is OK) and that they took the time to come and talk to you about their observations.
  5. Ask questions to get a better understanding.
    • Now is the time to get some clarification on issues that were brought up to see how you can go about integrating their comments into making you and/or your business better, or if there is something that you need to address (i.e. a serious issue such as health and safety, customer service, workflow, etc).
  6. Ask them for specific examples.
    • For example: I noticed that when you make this type of cupcake, the batter always tastes off, or I’ve noticed that when So-and-so is working, they are always on their phone or talking to their friends instead of paying customers.
  7. Acknowledge and explain (but don’t get defensive about!) points that aren’t disputable.
    • For example: we’ve been experimenting with the types and brands of flour we use to see what gives us the consistency and density we want.
  8. Ask if it these are isolated incidents or if they are repeated/have been noted by others.
    • Ask them for their ideas about how they would solve the issue.
  9. Ask for a chance to follow-up.
    • If it is a minor issue with a simple fix, there may no need for follow-up and a simple “thank-you” along with a rough game plan from which you plan to move forward is sufficient.
    • However, if it is a more severe or recurring issue, it is definitely acceptable to ask for an opportunity to meet again to get more clarification on the issue and to develop a more finite plan of attack.