Photography by Julia Hembree

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Five Tips for Making the Most of Criticism and Leveraging Feedback

Photography by Julia Hembree
Five Tips for Making the Most of Criticism and Leveraging Feedback
Published October 8, 2019 by Mia Pinjuh

Confidence doesn’t only come from accolades and plaudits. Learning how to process critical feedback can be just as important in building your self-worth and tenacity, and it can serve as a valuable grounding experience. So how to get past the initial sting of harsh judgement and move on gracefully? Read on for some words of wisdom from a handful of creatives who received their share of tough appraisals and thrived with the feedback.


1. Learn to spot good criticism

There’s good faith feedback that has your best interests at heart and then there’s trolling. Pentagram partner Eddie Opara notes the danger of what he calls design trolling. “We, as designers, have used rhetoric that is not robust, interesting, or intriguing enough. It’s not looking towards the future enough. We get caught up arguing amongst ourselves over these fickle pieces of commentary from the trolls and then writers start blowing that up.” It’s your prerogative to tell the difference. 

Woman smiling, wearing a black top. Lisa Congdon has learned to not take the success of other artists as a comment on her own creativity.

2. Take yourself out of the equation

Comparing your progress to others in your field is, essentially, a powerful and debilitating form of self-criticism. It’s possible to recognize that being down on yourself based on what others are doing is an avoidable choice. Take your cue from artist Lisa Congdon. “There have been periods of time that I’ve had to unfollow people [on Instagram]. Not because I didn’t like their work, but because I liked their work — I was feeling a sense of competition or jealousy. I do it less and less because I feel more confident in my own career, but there was a time when I had to block out the stuff that didn’t make me feel good,” she says.

3. Find trusted sources of feedback

It doesn’t have to be a mentor, but it helps to have someone on your side who you admire and whose judgement you trust. For Aundre Larrow, trusted guides at various stages of his career served as sources of wisdom and gave him a push in the right direction when he found himself floundering with a too-ambitious project. When faced with what feels like impending failure, people you trust can deliver the well-intentioned criticism you need to hear to shift course. “Having that guardrail is important. If someone knows you enough to say no, then their yes matters even more to you,” Aundre says. 

4. Examine what hits hardest

If critical feedback is leaving you unexpectedly crushed and hitting uncomfortably close to home, take a moment to ask yourself why. Are you creating work out of fear or uncertainty? 

When Brooklyn Dombroski found that she wasn’t flourishing in her marketing gig, she had a moment of revelation when it was addressed by her boss. She says, “My boss could tell that my heart was no longer in it, and she actually encouraged me to move on and pursue my dreams of becoming a full-time photographer. I respected her so much for that, because it was terrifying for me. I was constantly questioning my ability and self-worth.”

A depiction of the Johari Window. The Johari Window can reveal a lot of potentially valuable insights.

5. Take it to heart

Once you establish if the tough-to-hear commentary is valid, and once you tend to your ego, take a moment to use it to your advantage and grow. The gap between how we see ourselves and how others perceive us forms one of the core tenets of the Johari Window method

The tool prompts you to look at the various selves you present to the world and to ask, “Are there any changes you want to make to represent yourself more clearly? Or are there areas of growth you want to focus on improving?” Make a list of these and work on building awareness of the shortcomings you have noticed. From there, you can act with more intention and work on closing that gap. 


More about Mia Pinjuh

Mia is a writer based in New York. 

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