Dealing With Feedback that Pisses You Off
"Oh, Jim's calling! He must've already reviewed the work I sent. Can't believe how in the ZONE I got yesterday—killed it. Right, calm down Jake. Professional voice.
Jim! How are you doi--
Oh. Wow, really? I thoug--
I see. But not all of it?
'wildly off track' seems a bit...
Of course, of course. You're the boss.
Well today's not great actually, I'm pretty bus--
Yep. Yeah I get it. Today. This morning? Well, um--
Okay. Sure. This morning. Sorry about this. Bye J--
Feedback can be a kick in the bollocks. Doesn't matter if it's a few mild changes or being told that "the whole concept of using limericks to sell accounting software is idiotic".
(You know who you are.)
If you're proud of the work, anything other than send-to-the-publisher approval can hurt. Your brains races everywhere from mild disappointment to explosive and self-righteous fury. Or worse, the imposter syndrome demon in your brain might jab his pitchfork into your tears ducts again.
And all that's expected. You wouldn't have shared the work in the first place if you thought you'd done a shitty job.
So if your client/boss/colleague/parent has fed back to you, and you're feeling angry/belittled/upset, what can you do?
Here's what works for me.
Walk away and ignore it*
When the client queries something you've done, on a project they're paying good money for, that is acceptable behaviour.
In fact it's probably essential to delivering a great project. So step #1 is don't get pissy without a good reason—you would call out your decorator in a heartbeat if they used the wrong paint in your kitchen.
(And in my experience the decorator doesn't baulk at that comment—they just show you the tin, your email confirming that shade, and laugh at you with their friends while buying drinks with your money.)
Unfortunately I have a habit of taking it way too personally and getting riled up. Even when the client's completely right.
Jake's advice to Jake: take a breath, man! Read the feedback and if it tilts you, go do something else. If you value your bank balance, you will not just reply straight away.
I'll go work on something else and let the fires die down. Once the rational brain has regained control, it's time to dispute/accept/explore all comments and keep building towards a great result.
*Walk away from mid-scolding parents at your own risk. Zero liability accepted.
Ego—out the window with it
Yes yes, you're an expert and the work is sublime; a work of genius guided by the Lord's own hands.
But you can still get stuff wrong. Re-read the comments from the client/boss/colleague's perspective (I've stopped pretending I can advise parents) and see if they've got a point. Understand where they're coming from.
If they've spotted something you didn't, that's awesome—you've just learned something and grown as a professional.
If they're wrong, then show them why and present the solution. If they're any good, they'll appreciate it and you both benefit.
Remember that if the client is making "ridiculous suggestions", they don't have your expertise and knowledge. You may need to walk them through it. It's also possible your ideas don't work because you don't understand their business well enough, and their comments are insightful and useful. Don't let your ego get in the way doing a good job.
During that initial frothing reaction, egos can overflow with self-righteousness. Take a mop, clean up the mess, and remember that even God makes mistakes.
Don't be a condescending asshole
I've met some condescending assholes, but never someone who identifies as one... 👀
When you're defending your work or decisions, try to be empathetic. The other person's just trying to do a good job, same as you. Here are some reactions to avoid:
❌ Blanket refusal to make the client's changes
✅ Discuss each point in order, making strategic decision on what stays, what goes, and why.
❌ "I'm the expert here - they should just listen to me!"
✅ "I'm the expert here - let me frame this another way for you."
❌ Becoming a fiery keyboard warrior over email/Google Docs comments
✅ Having an honest face-to-face on Zoom.
❌ Meekly making all their changes without batting an eye
✅ If all they want's a yes-man then do it—then get paid and get out.
At the end of the day, you both want the same thing: a quality result. Taking a calm and measured approach to incorporating feedback isn't just more professional—it's gonna save you money on beta blockers in the long run.
Get better clients!
"Dude, you clearly haven't worked with the kind of clients I deal with."
I get it: sometimes you work with arseholes. They'll bitch and moan, ask for constant adjustments, say the work's not good enough, refuse to pay—all the good stuff. When I'm still not getting anywhere after stepping away, binning the ego, and being as minimally condescending as possible...
I move on. Get the job finished, note down any red flags I might've missed for the future, and go find another client. We've all got better things to do than jump through hoops for megalomaniac ringmasters.*
Getting feedback on your work is important. Sometimes it's how clients make themselves feel involved in or in control of a project. Respect that desire and try to resolve feedback like a rational, emotionally stable adult.
I'll keep doing my best, too. 😬
*Message not intended for members of legitimate circuses.