How To Handle Criticism From A Client

April 14, 2019

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I'm Court —online systems educator for coaches. I'm here to help you love your business again.

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Critics are everywhere. You see it daily in your personal and professional life. No matter your approach or how hard you work at something, there will always be someone willing to throw out a, “I’ve seen better.”

Despite the empty stomach feeling you get when you read an email that’s less than flattering of your work or a request for an edit that turns into a complete recreation, criticism has a positive purpose in developing your skills as a professional when you know how to recognize, accept, and respond to it accordingly.



How To Recognize Constructive Criticism

Recognizing constructive criticism is the most important key in helping you react to a client’s negative feedback accordingly. It’s not only crucial to helping establish your reaction but it’s also a must if you want to keep your sanity.

Each client is unique and will have different styles of communication and expectations. Ideally, you want to meet each client’s expectations but that’s only possible after a learning curb is established. The first goal is to avoid a negative response (we’ll show you how below) but then you want the client to know what to expect in terms of a response. When you take on a client as an OBM:

  • Share your work processes and offer examples from previous projects if needed so the new client has a level of expectation. This step may help you avoid negative feedback all together because it gives the client an opportunity to express any areas where they’d like to see something different.
  • Establish a preferred way to communicate if there’s a challenge or need for change. Do you prefer email so you can reread and clearly understand the feedback or would you prefer a phone call so you can immediately ask questions?
  • Set a response time expectation. While some situations call for immediate attention, you’ll ideal want several minutes (or a couple hours) to digest the feedback and craft a thoughtful response.


By establishing work expectations and setting preferred communication methods and an expected response time, you’ve established a strong baseline with your client.


How To Accept Negative Feedback

Despite your best efforts, negative feedback is a totally natural part of working with a variety of clients. When you receive that first email or Slack message with a negative response to your work, it can be jolting. It’s especially troublesome if you felt strongly about the project and felt it was sincerely your best work.

Rather than getting your feathers ruffled at the client’s response, take a moment to read or hear the message with an unbiased mindset (or at least as close as you can get). No matter the client or the project in question, use these steps to openly hear and accept the client’s criticism:

  • Actively listen. Don’t fire off an email or sit on the phone silently creating a list of rebuttals to the client’s feedback.
  • Look for clarification. Make sure you’ve understood the client’s feedback by repeating what they said in your own words.
  • Say thank you. This step may seem unexpected, but that’s the point. When your client hears “thank you” for the feedback and redirection, they feel heard and valued. A simple thank you does not mean you must agree with everything they’ve said, but it eases the tension and shows your willingness to accept their message.
  • Ask for time. Let the client know you’ve heard their points, taken notes, and need just a little time to process the requested changes or feedback. Give them a specific timeframe when they can expect a tailored, thoughtful response. (Note: This should absolutely be within 24 hours, sooner if the conversation happens in the beginning of the day).


Automating your response to negative feedback makes the situation easier to handle. You’ll feel more prepared because you have a plan in waiting.


How To Respond To Criticism

Now that you’ve received and clarified the client’s constructive criticism, it’s time to develop your game plan. Develop a clear, concise message by listing each point of change the client requested. After each point, explain the change or adjustment you will make. To close the message, explain how each change will work together to reach the client’s desired goal.

While we’re big fans of listening to a client and receiving constructive criticism that can help us grow, it’s also important to recognize when a message is ill-intended. If a client belittles you, curses, or only offers negative feedback, it’s time to reevaluate the working relationship. We’ve developed a guide on how to professional cut ties with a client.


Use your OBM skills to automate how you respond to negative feedback. Recognize when the message is helpful, accept the guidance for future projects, and respond in a way that assures the client you understand their needs.


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