Don’t Take It Personally: How to Accept and Benefit From Criticism

Nobody likes to be criticized. When the complaint is coming from a client or customer, however, criticisms can actually be your best friend.

Whether they’re about you, your company, or your product, constructive criticism can be a powerful opportunity for you to improve your sales technique, close more deals, and increase your revenues. The key is to not respond defensively or angrily. Most salespeople—like most people—get their dander up the moment anyone says anything even remotely negative. They get defensive, angry, or, in the worst-case scenario, they look for ways to retaliate either overtly or coercively.

The following four-step process can help you learn how to take criticism well, and even begin to use it to enhance your client relationships.

Step 1: Thank the client for their feedback.

Try saying something like, “Thanks for bringing this to my attention, I appreciate the opportunity you’ve given me to improve (the level of service, my responsiveness, etc).”

Step 2: Ask questions.

People love to teach others what to do. So, involve your customer in the solution by asking them what suggestions they have that might help you improve. Asking questions will allow you and your client to have a constructive dialogue around the issue at hand. Who knows, the client may even make a suggestion you never thought of!

Step 3: Listen.

Your client is entitled to their opinion. So, whatever they have to say, hear them out. Listen to what is being said, process it, reflect on it, and then use it to improve. Try taking notes to show that what they’re saying is important to you. If your client feels you’re taking their opinion seriously, they’ll be less likely to get angry and more willing to work with you to reach a resolution.

If you listen with the intent to improve, you’ll have an even better chance of understanding their point of view. Use the listening techniques you’ve developed as a sales professional to ask probing questions or ask for examples. And remember: let the client do at least 70% of the talking. At the end of the conversation, summarize what they’ve said to show them that you understand. Then ask for one more opinion: what they think you should do to improve.

Step 4: Commit to improve.

Finally, always let the customer know that you appreciate their opinions, suggestions, and that you will be taking concrete steps to improve. You can even go so far as to ask whether they’d like you to check in with them again in a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, don’t turn your back on what they’ve said or try to forget about it. Spend some time looking for any validity in the criticism, and perhaps share the feedback with someone you can trust to tell you the truth. This will also give you a chance to look at the criticism from a neutral perspective.

One last thought: I’ve seen far too many people pull their ads, cancel programs, postpone events, or ruin otherwise profitable relationships just because somebody got offended. So, whatever you do, don’t ever take criticism personally. I know this can be hard to do, especially when it’s coming from someone you like (or someone who signs your paychecks). The fact of the matter is, if you’re not offending at least one person, you’re probably not pushing hard enough.

The real you may make 2-3% of your clients uncomfortable. That’s okay, because you weren’t going to sell to them anyway. The thing to remember is that the other 97% of your clients really want to see your personality, your style, and your communication reflected in your work. If you try to make everyone happy, the only thing you can be certain of is becoming a bland commodity that no one will be particularly excited about.

Only you can give other people permission to make you feel bad. Interpreting criticism as a subjective opinion with a solution instead of a personal rebuke will help you grow, build better relationships, and, ultimately, become more successful. So, take the opinions and criticism of others seriously, not personally. Use what they say to create an action plan to upgrade your performance, both personally and professionally. And, don’t worry about being perfect.

As the Bard once said, “To thine own self be true.” Be your best not for your boss, your customers, or even your family. Be your best for you.