A Little Trick for Dealing with Negativity and Criticism
Photo courtesy of Eric Hamiter.

A Little Trick for Dealing with Negativity and Criticism

Written by Emilie

Topics: Confidence

Putting yourself out there is hard. It’s probably the biggest issue that my students face in preparation for the launch of their Renaissance Businesses.

I’ve noticed that Multipotentialites in particular tend to be extra sensitive to criticism, since we often feel misunderstood by the culture already. Not only do we fear criticism about the content of the work, but we worry that people will criticize our choice to pursue “yet another project” in the first place.

My role here isn’t to tell you to “let it go,” or to have a thick skin. That works for some people, but honestly, very few. I mean sure, getting exposed to enough criticism helps thicken your skin I suppose, but I never fully believe someone when they say that criticism doesn’t get to them. Unsolicited criticism always sucks, especially when it comes from someone who isn’t a part of your audience or isn’t putting anything out there in the world themselves (which it almost always does).

What about General Negativity or Poor/Non-Reactions?

Chances are, that if you’re making an effort to help people and bring value into the world, you won’t get nearly as much criticism you fear you will. I don’t get much criticism myself. Certainly not relative to all of the thank yous I receive. Still, occasionally someone will unsubscribe from my email list for a dumb reason, take issue with one of my posts or request a book refund (which I think has happened a total of 3 times), and yeah, it hurts. It’s like Barbara Sher says, “One bit of criticism cannot be overcome by fourteen complements.”

But now with the Puttytribe up and running, I’ve had to prepare myself for this terrifying thing called… membership cancellations!

We’ve got a retention rate of like 92%, which is pretty damn stellar. It means that we’ve got some happy Puttypeep in there (which in turn makes me happy. :) But when someone does leave, it’s feels pretty painful because usually I know this person. We’ve connected before. Moreover, they are one of my peep and so it feels like I let them down.

I try to remind myself that people cancel subscriptions to all services for all kinds of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with you. They don’t have time to use the service, they ran into some financial trouble, and so on.

Although refunds, unsubscribes and cancellations aren’t quite the same as criticism, they often feel just as bad. It’s easy to internalize them and blame yourself, even if the reason has nothing to do with you.

Some Good Ways to Deal with Criticism

How do most people deal with criticism and negativity? If they’re smart, they let it hurt, and then maybe pull out their small wins notebook or “woo! file” that contains praise from happy people, and they remind themselves that they’re making a positive difference in peoples lives– that there are those who love their work and those are the people that matter. Maybe they call up and friend or talk to a loved one, to get the hurt feelings out.

If there’s a lesson to be learned or something constructive in the criticism, they take note of it and try to do better.

This is all great stuff. But lately I’ve been trying a new approach. I’ve been experimenting with creating a system or protocol for negative reactions.

Creating a System

Very few people prepare for what they will do when criticism hits. Most of us prefer not to think about it, we just silently pray that negative reactions never come and then react (understandably) poorly when they do.

Here’s an idea. Why not be proactive, and plot out exactly what you will do when you get a negative reaction.

My system now consists of emailing the person right away and asking for feedback. Once that’s done, I immediately find a way to help someone else. This might mean replying in depth to an email from a puttypeep or posting a reply to someone’s question in the Tribe.

Having a System in Place Puts You in an Action-Based Mindset as Opposed to a Results-Based One

The reason that jumping right back in and helping someone else is so effective, is that it’s proactive. It makes you feel useful and reminds you that you are helping people.

There’s no better way to beat negativity than by diving into Hard Work. By focusing on helping your people, you’re taking the focus off of the results of your actions, and placing it on the work itself. That’s all you can control anyway.

Your Turn

How do you deal with negative reactions to your meaningful work?


  1. When I launched my very first product – after hours of research, recording and editing all the audio samples, organizing and posting it, and setting a very reasonable price of $30 for 30 pronunciation lessons – the very first comment on the product sales page was one word that just said “Free.”

    I was pissed! Honestly, I don’t even know what the writer meant by that, but I took it to mean “I want the content for free.” As if I didn’t already have 100+ free and very useful lessons on my site already, and God forbid I should try to charge for something.

    I deleted the comment and got depressed…

    …but then I picked myself back up and 3 months later re-launched a different version of the paid course, this one aimed towards a specific segment of students. I’ve had 8 customers so far, and all have given me STELLAR feedback!

    I like your negative reaction system a lot, and will try to put it into practice next time I get criticized. One caveat is that I think in my case I’ll need to wait a little bit before replying to the negative person, because I have a hard time keeping the tone neutral and not defensive.

    • Emilie says:

      Wow, see a one word reply from some idiot and it killed your momentum for 3 months… That stuff is powerful. But you know, you got back up and did it. And now it sounds like you’ve found your people. That’s so awesome, Shayna. Congrats on the launch!

  2. Janet says:

    This is great advice. I offer free tutorials on YouTube (opting to get paid with advertising – but honestly, I’d still do it if I didn’t get paid at all), and I might get 100 positive feedbacks for every one negative, and in the past have really struggled with that one negative – until I realize the person could have been having a bad day and just wanted to lash out (I’ve been called names or told the tut was “stupid” or other words I won’t repeat here) – or, if they actually offered constructive criticism, I realized maybe I should consider their words.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that even saints get criticized (not that I claim to be one) and you just *can’t* please everybody. It can still sting, but I try to keep my eyes on the bigger picture. Your idea of responding and moving on is a really good one though – it would have been helpful if I’d thought of that when I started out years ago! I had to learn the hard way. ‘Was always told I just needed thicker skin, but like you say – that doesn’t work for everyone! Especially when it’s about something you poured a lot of your own time and effort into.

    Now for my positive feedback:
    I love your posts (and guest posts) here – and though I don’t *always* agree *cough 10,000 hours* ;), I LOVE hearing your perspective. I have you on my iGoogle page so I always see when there’s something new at Puttylike! :) Please keep on going!

    • Emilie says:

      I think you’re really brave for putting your stuff up on YouTube at all! The number of trolls on that site I find totally intimidating.

      And wait, are you saying that you’re a multipotentialite who believes we need to put in 10,000 hours before a pursuit is valid? Heh how’s that possible? :)

      • Janet says:

        LOL Well, no I don’t think you have to have 10,000 hours before a pursuit is valid. I just think mastery comes when you’ve racked up a lot of hours at something. It doesn’t invalidate what one has done prior to that, though!

        I mean, as soon as I could ride a bike, *I could ride a bike*. But I wasn’t very good at it until I did it for a while. After a year or two I stopped falling off on a regular basis. After 15 years I found myself driving on motorcycles – but it’s not something my 5 year old self would have been doing – it took time to learn balance and confidence in my skill as a bike rider.

    • Nadira Jamal says:

      When I get snarky online comment, this comic helps me a lot:

      It makes me laugh, and reminds me that most criticism is just someone spewing their own issues and stupidity. (And that they would probably NEVER say that in person.)

      Once I’m in that mindset, it’s easier not to take it personally, so I can evaluate it and see if there’s any useful feedback in there.

      Also: I have a mentor. I have a very high opinion of her expertise and taste, and I trust her to tell me the truth. So if she tells me I’m doing well, I know that any issues I still have are just me feeling insecure.

      I need to remember that I have that resource. We usually end up working that stuff out when I’m seeing her for a lesson or workshop. It didn’t occur to me until just now that I could just call her when I need input…

  3. Juventud says:

    I have experienced negativity and criticism all through my life. Sometimes it was just genuine feedback which was coming my way for my benefit and some time it was just out of jealousy. I must say most of the times I perceived it incorrectly. You are absolutely right Emilie. The reason criticism and negativity hurt the most is because they catch us off guard. When we devote ourselves to something so deeply we believe that it is the best creation of its kind and when we have this ego in our mind we forget about criticism. We must understand no matter how perfect our idea or project seems to us there is always a room for betterment. The best way that I have learnt to tackle criticism is through ‘self knowledge’. Trust me it helps a lot. A very easy example would be if someone says that you are stupid and even if they mean it you first weigh their opinion with what you know about yourself for you know yourself your entire life. If you still have doubts you can base your judgement on your past accomplishments or the feedback that you have received in the past. And true people don’t unsubscribe to a mailing list because of personal issues. It could be because of end number of reasons but not at all because of personal issues. You can count one more Thank You for this great article ;).

    • Emilie says:

      Hey Juventud,

      You’re awesome. I really like your perspective on criticism and self-knowledge. Thanks for sharing.

      And thanks for being you. :)

  4. Thea says:

    I’m okay with criticism I asked for. Yes, it still smarts if someone doesn’t like something I love, but I asked them to help me make things better and I trust that they’re doing that to the best of their ability. If I don’t like what they’ve said, then I take a breather, process my emotions until I can look at the situation objectively and then see if what they think needs change actually does, and what kind of change it needs (which may not always be what they suggested).

    When it comes to unsolicited criticism, I have no idea. Methinks I’ll be trying out this action plan method, because that seems like the best approach I’ve ever come across. :D

    • Emilie says:

      I agree, solicited criticism is an entirely different breed. I appreciate it very much, though I’m usually quite selective when it comes to who I ask.

      Let me know how it works for ya, Thea. :)

  5. For me it largely depends on the flavor of the criticism. I haven’t had a lot of it (I’ve been so lucky to be navigating in a creative environment full of really kind people, even my customers are very kind), but it seems to fall into three categories: 1) someone genuinely trying to help me (and she may have a valid point), 2) a sour, unhappy busy-body who feels compelled to criticize others to make herself feel better (and she may have a valid point), and 3) someone who is bat shit crazy and I just happened to tweak their psychological disorder. Usually #3 is fairly obvious because it’s inflammatory and doesn’t make much sense, and you can toss that into the “mental illness” category. While it doesn’t necessarily hurt my feelings, it is unnerving. Crazy people scare the piss out of me. I don’t respond to these criticisms b/c I have a policy of not interacting with crazy people, it doesn’t work. The 2) approach usually involves some degree of tactlessness on their part so I usually will get mad at first, maybe privately rant and rave (the beyotch!), maybe stew for a couple days, and then eventually think about what they said. SHOULD all my jewelry photo backgrounds really be white? I might look around at other people’s photos to see what I think. In the end with the 2) variety, it’s usually a ticky-tacky personal taste issue and I will almost always discard it. (But maybe I will decide it would look good to have more light-background photos mixed in with the rest. And I may one day secretly rejoice if I see her publicly get egg on her face. I may also, from time to time, resurrect my rant, like in the car or something.) Probably won’t respond unless I come up with a really good pithy response I can deliver in a faux-gracious manner. Oddly enough, it’s the 1) variety that hurts the most, because a decent, thoughtful person thinks my work is substandard in some way, even if they’re very nice about it. (It hurts worse if they’re right.) This might even make me cry. I’ll probably mope for a while. Then think about it. Put off doing anything about it. Maybe wallow in a funk. And then if it makes sense, go ahead and make the change. And then write them to thank them once I’ve processed it. Then avoid them for a while out of embarrassment and eventually become friends.

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Keirsten,

      I love the way you broke that down. And I concur, #1s hurt the most. I tend to handle those situations much in the same way you do. In the end, we’re better for it. But man does it hurt when all you’re trying to do is help in the first place.

  6. Erin says:

    I totally just created myself a WOO! file. “WOO!” inspires me way more than “small wins” :)

    I’ve really never put myself out there into a space where negative criticism can happen, which I’m not sure is a good thing. To me, that means I’m too terrified of getting a bad reaction to try anything. I’ve blogged for a couple of years, but never for business or for a particularly large audience. I’ve always tried to stay safe.

    I recently started a very personal blog, which has been both hard and rewarding, and the response (though very, very small) has been positive. That’s helped build a little confidence, a little bit of padding against negativity and criticism.

    I’ve also just started to put together an Etsy shop as a way to step outside my comfort fortress. This Puttylike post is perfectly timed for me, so that I can open my shop with a system already in place for dealing with negative experiences. I know they will hurt and discourage me, but I don’t want them to stop me from trying. I think focusing on helping others and on contributing to the world will keep me facing the right direction.

    I’ve only been part of the Puttytribe for just over a week, but it’s already been a HUGE help in this area. HUGE. The huddles are so supportive and encouraging, and everyone in the forums is unbelievably helpful and giving. I’ve asked for feedback and gotten constructive comments that have helped me improve and built confidence. We’ll see what happens when I get my first serious criticism. I’ll be sure to have a system in place by then!

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Erin,

      I think you’re doing great! I’ve definitely noticed you taking advantage of the opportunities in the Puttytribe, and really pushing yourself to get out of your comfort zone with your projects. Thanks for the kind words about the Tribe, it’s really awesome watching your evolution from this end too. :)

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