How to Deal with Criticism in Five Easy Steps

Sasha here. I hope you’ve all missed me.


Alpha Mom has an old friend from Ohio visiting this week, so she asked me to pump out this blog post about criticism.  She says I can use her solitary 1-star review of her Peace Corps memoir (At Home on the Kazakh Steppe, available through your local independent bookstore or this link) as an example.  I thought that’d be fun.

Here it is.  Can you read it?

Yes, someone named “Amazon Customer” (Yeah, I thought so too. He or she could really use a bit of creativity.) had the audacity to criticize my Alpha Mom. What a weasel!

What’s that?  Oh.  Alpha Mom says I am not to be critical of the reviewer. “That’s not how dealing with criticism works,” she says. Something about gratuitous ad hominems are the hallmarks of the lazy; I don’t understand. “Facts; only the facts,” she says.  OK.  I’ll try again.

Fact: Turns out this is the only review this Amazon Customer has posted, something Alpha Mom admits is a bit suspicious.  In fact, it’s exactly why she tends to discount this particular review (and probably why she laughs about it often; I’ve heard her).

But she thought that dealing with criticism is an important skill to practice, hence this post. She came up with five steps, which I’ll try to remember.

Somewhere in her very long life, Alpha Mom learned that in dealing with criticism, one should

(1) Hear it all the way to the end.

I think that means to not interrupt the criticizer with any “yeah, but” replies.  Just listen; this is not the time to defend oneself. Of course, with a written review like we’re using here, it’s easy to read it all the way through.

Let’s do that. Here it is again, from the top, the whole thing, all the way through:

I found the main character to be self-centered, demanding and uncaring.
She had no redeeming qualities.
Her community project brought no real awareness of American culture. 

Self-centered? Demanding? Uncaring?  No redeeming qualities? Surely this reviewer doesn’t know my Alphas.  And you’re creaming her community project? How do you know? Were you there?

Wait. There’s Alpha Mom again. Now she’s telling me to

(2) Pay attention to words that seem useful, and any that seem particularly troubling.

None of them seem useful; they all seem hate filled and ignorant. I want to go bite this reviewer; well, growl at him or her at any rate. I want to make her (or him) go away. I don’t like this at all.

Alpha Mom’s butting in again.  She says that she wondered if maybe the reviewer hadn’t finished the book. Maybe she’d read only the parts where she (Alpha Mom) was self-centered, demanding, and uncaring. Alpha Mom says that is how people get when they are under a lot of stress.

So, maybe this reader was under stress when she wrote this review?  Awww, Alpha Mom likes that I said that.  She’s scratching my head now.

Alpha mom says this step is pretty exhausting, so afterward I should

(3) Do something nice for myself.

I like that idea, so I’m going to take a break and go and chase the chickens.  Oh, wait. I don’t do that anymore. OK, instead I’ll go over to Gramma’s house and get a cookie.

NOTE here from Alpha Mom while Sasha’s out of the room.  Rather than eating a cookie, I might instead have reread the many wonderful reviews that are posted.  If the criticism bothered me (which it didn’t since I quickly discounted the source), I would have sat still for a while to see if it reminded me of some earlier criticism I’d gotten.  You know: old hurts, … triggers, … new pain.  Sorry, gotta run.

Sasha here again. And I feel great. Good cookie, extra scratch.  I am loved. It’s important to remember that. Especially when I get all worked up over something like this.  Alpha Mom says if I were still upset (and I had opposable thumbs) I could

(4) Write a letter to the reviewer. BUT DON’T MAIL IT.

Geeesh; she didn’t have to yell at me.  In the letter I might give the critic credit for pointing out something I hadn’t been aware of, but I’d mostly defend my work. That sounds to me like I’m just speaking up for myself.  I wanted to do that at the start, but that wasn’t the right time.  I get it now!

Alpha Mom says that you have to decide whose opinion of yourself you are more attached to: yours or the reviewers. Hmmm, that seems like a really important part to remember.

I know which one I’d choose. That’s easy.

And then, according to Alpha Mom, we should all

(5) Go do something creative again.

In my Alpha’s case, she’s still writing; still pumping out these blog posts every week (except when I step in to do them for her), still working on that next memoir she wants to get out, and she’s taking a Tai Chi class.

How about you? How do you deal with criticism?  What are you doing creatively these days? 


With thanks to for this image (including unexpected typo).


[box] Interested in reading At Home on the Kazakh Steppe? I hope so. Click here for the PAPERBACK and eBook versions.

photo credit: Laird Sapir

Amazon makes it easy. And, you can always order it from your local independent bookstore. If you’ve read it, and enjoyed it, a review on Amazon would be much appreciated.   [/box]

15 Responses

  1. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Hey Sasha – ‘looks like I get to go first for once :). How do I deal with criticism? Not particularly well, to be truthful, even if I usually manage to put on a convincingly stoic face. Creative endeavors leave me particularly vulnerable, I think — and a bit overly dependent upon positive feedback. Something about really putting yourself out there… But ultimately, your Alpha Mom is correct that “you have to decide whose opinion of yourself you are more attached to: yours or the (criticizer’s).” The things that tend to wound the deepest are the ones we most fear may be true on some level. We ultimately have to draw strength from within and develop faith in our talents and convictions, forgive our own limitations and imperfections, and accept that not everyone is going to like what we have to say, or how we say it.

    As to what I’m working on at the moment — it’s a fairly utilitarian attempt at art — a floor lamp, rather rusty and industrial, incorporating some pretty old and rustic elements. I’ll send the Alpha a photo when it’s done :).
    Tim Fearnside recently posted…On the Human Chains that Bind UsMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      “The things that tend to wound the deepest are the ones we most fear may be true on some level.” I think you’ve captured a truly important point here, Tim. Thanks for that. And yes indeed, I look forward to seeing a photo of your WIP lamp. Sounds cool. (can I still say “cool?”)

  2. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    Good morning, Sasha and Janet! This is a great subject. My reviews on Amazon are decidedly mixed. The editorial reviews are good–mostly very good, in fact. But I also have some from people like “Amazon Customer.” I’ve read some from people who clearly have not read the book. One referred to a collection of articles by different authors as if it was a monograph all written by me, so clearly he or she had not read it. Another expected a history book published by NYU Press to be a novel. I can’t take any of those seriously–though to be honest, they still bother me. We all want to be liked and admired. I will be anxious though to see reviews if I ever publish poetry or fiction.

    Well, you know what I’m doing creatively these days. 🙂 I haven’t had as much time for poetry the last couple of weeks though.
    Merril Smith recently posted…Sweetness RestoredMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Merril. Your point about how “we all want to be liked and admired” is an important one. I might have gone off in that direction with this post if Sasha hadn’t taken over for me. I think it’s something worth always keeping in mind. That and “By whom do we want to be liked and admired?” Thanks for adding your thoughts.

  3. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    Doggone it, Sasha! You hit on a sensitive topic once again.

    I’ve read Alpha Mom’s work and find this review patently untrue. When a “reviewer” can’t find one redeeming quality, I have to conclude that s/he may be (a) jealous of the author or (b) has projected his/her own lack of success onto someone else.

    How do I deal with criticism? My last beta reader had plenty to say about my memoir draft, but I agreed with 95% of it because it rang true and because I respected her opinion as an accomplished writer who has my best interests at heart and dispensed the criticism gently.

    A rejection: Just recently I published a blog post on a “closed group” Facebook page of which I was a member. The editor asked me to take it down because it violated the policy of their very narrow “niche” market. Just thinking about it feels like I have my head in a vise. I generally appeal to a much broader audience that respects different points of view. I deleted the post but still I felt the sting of criticism. (I won’t be back with a substitute post which the editor suggested.)

    Yes, it is human nature to be liked and admired.

    Today I will sally forth and read my newest revision aloud to see how it sounds to my ear. Give yourself a hug, Janet!
    Marian Beaman recently posted…Mennonite Women Go CampingMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      We are such social animals, aren’t we Marian, even us introverts. So of course we want to be liked. We want to get along. I like to think there are two types of criticism: the “constructive” one, and the “projection” one. And I believe that criticism, in any form, says more about the giver than the receiver, even if it’s only “I need you to do a better job. Here’s how I think you can do that.”

      Enjoy your reading aloud. That was always hard for me. BUT SOOOO helpful.

  4. Kathleen Pooler
    | Reply

    Hey Sasha, it’s great to have you back. You’re looking quite healthy these days. Alpha Mom has some very wise advice about all this. Perhaps the most important point is that this is the only 1-star review out of many rave reviews. Also the reviewer’s comments say so much more about that person than about Alpha Mom’s character or story. As much as we love positive reviews, a negative review can test our resolve to keep moving forward. I’ve had plenty of negative feedback about my current WIP but I think it keeps getting better with each revision. Onward and hugs to Alpha Mom!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Awwww, Ms Kathy, that’s so sweet of you. I am quite healthy, thanky much, though I can no longer chase the deer or the bear like I once did. But I get around pretty well. I’m adapting to my own “new normal,” which are words you taught my Alpha Mom and she passed along to me. I shall certainly deliver your hugs to the Alpha Ma’am, though from me they tend more towards a heavy push.

  5. Janet
    | Reply

    Sasha back again to say that hearing all your nice words about my post feels better than an unexpected belly rub. I thank you. And Woof. Woof. Alpha Mom says she’ll return tomorrow when she’s back on her computer.
    Janet recently posted…How to Deal with Criticism in Five Easy StepsMy Profile

  6. Isabelle
    | Reply

    Love this one, Sasha!

    My reactions are much more similar to yours than to your Alphas (chapeau to her!). But I have my own little Alpha in my head, that makes me go for a walk before reacting.

    Luckily I have experienced the kind of feedback/criticism, that makes me jump off my seat and hug the person saying it, or virtually hugging him/her. The kind that helps more than it hurts.

    Criticism doesn’t have to hurt and when it does, the most important thing is to find out whether the other person is in it for the long haul. No clear name? One or two sentences? Then that person wanted to judge, not to criticise.

    Is judgment = criticisme?

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hey Isabelle — Sasha’s gone off to sleep, so it’s me again. So good to have you stop by again. This time from the middle of Armenia. (Middle? not sure). Do you know I was over forty the first time I heard the word Armenia. And that was from my Int’l Relations professor who was rattling off the various allegiances in the world, ending up with the opposites: the Germans hate the Belgians, the French hate the English, the Dutch hate the Germans … and everyone hates the Armenians.

      I hope I’ll learn much about them from you as you post your blog links. Did you see the place to click here so that we can get the link? Try it again. I loved your last one.

      • Isabelle
        | Reply

        Hahahaha! That rings very true! Although hate is such a strong word, for comedic purposes it elevates the stakes just enough. “Everyone hates the Armenians” is definitely a chip on their shoulder from centuries ago. I will have to do a lot of thinking before posting my texts about this country and the people I’ve met because it’s filled to the brim with contradictions. But then, aren’t we all? Eternal struggle. 😉
        Isabelle recently posted…FEARMy Profile

  7. Darlene Foster
    | Reply

    Great advice! Thanks, Sasha. Those one-star reviews should just be ignored. At least that’s what my dog, Dot says!!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Yup, that’s fer sure there Dot. Though sometimes it’s like trying to ignore a mosquito bite. Good intentions and all just don’t do it. And it feels so good to finally get that scratch going.

      So Dot. Just what kind of pooch are you? I could use a few more BFFs.

  8. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Hey, Sasha — While I’m not a fan of receiving criticism (in the least), I really do appreciate the wise quote your mom posted at the end of this post. “…If it’s justified, learn from it).
    Laurie Buchanan recently posted…Ladybugs GaloreMy Profile

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a blog you'd like to share? I use CommentLuv Click here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.