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Taking constructive criticism like a pro in three steps

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I also did an entire podcast episode on this topic.

Tune in here.

creative entrepreneurs need a system for taking constructive criticism.

As a content creator, one of the best gifts you can receive is honest, genuine feedback. This post details a system for taking constructive criticism that will ensure you don't waste that gift.

Much like a subscription to the jelly of the month club, honest feedback isn’t always a pleasant gift to receive. But just like the jelly club, honest feedback is a gift that keeps on giving.

and the survey says...

I recently ran a listener survey on Family Travel Radio. I truly want to know what my audience wants and needs from the podcast, and the survey was designed to help serve them better.

Although I didn’t explicitly request feedback about my hosting abilities, I did include the open-ended question: “How can the podcast be improved?”.

The feedback was mostly positive—with one glaring exception. In response to the “How can the podcast be improved?” question, one listener wrote:

“If I were you, I'd drop the ‘my friend’ shtick.” (I’ll explain what this means in just a minute)

and

“Sometimes, you can sound really cheesy.”

Make no mistake, this wasn’t “hater” feedback. Dealing with haters is an entirely different conversation. This was honest, critical feedback from a regular listener. The individual chose to remain anonymous, which is unfortunate, but I could tell from the other responses that this person listens to the show and is offering genuine constructive criticism.


When you’re lucky enough to receive honest, constructive criticism, it’s tempting to respond in one of two extremes.

#1: the f-you

One extreme is the f-you response:

Who in the hell are you? This is MY show, and nobody’s gonna tell me how to run MY show.”

#2: the chameleon

The other extreme response is the chameleon’s approach where you change immediately to please your critic:

Wait... Somebody does't like something? I must change it immediately! Perish the thought of someone not liking me!

Which is the appropriate response? The answer, of course, is...it depends. (as unsatisfying as that may be)

Sometimes you have say f-you (as politely as you can, of course), and sometimes you need to make a quick and decisive change. Other times you’re somewhere in the middle.

My recent experience with the listener survey brought to my attention the importance of having a system for processing feedback.

To help you better evaluate feedback, I developed the following simple framework for taking constructive criticism and either incorporating or ignoring it.

Ready? Here we go...

taking constructive criticism

step 1: get clear about your core values

Step one in your process of taking constructive criticism is getting clear about your core values. These core values are part of your soul. Violating your core values in response to even the most constructive criticism will leave you feeling like a fraud or a sell out. That’s how deep-rooted these values are. Define them clearly.

When your core values and core message are crystal clear, you may then assume that everything else is negotiable. Apart from your core values, you must be willing to rethink your message and how you deliver that message based on honest feedback from your audience.

However, just because you’re willing to rethink something doesn’t mean you have to make a change.

taking constructive criticism

step 2: determine impact on your core values

Step two in taking constructive criticism is determining whether the feedback asks you to do something that goes against your core values. Ask yourself the following questions:

How do I feel about making the requested change?

Would making this change help me serve my audience better?

Am I selling out my own core values in order to satisfy someone else’s?

If you determine that making change would violate your core values, then you’re done. Say thanks, but no thanks, and stay the course with gratitude.

taking constructive criticism

step 3: determine impact on your audience

Step three comes into play only after you've determined that making a change based on negative feedback won’t violate your core values. Making changes is now negotiable, but just because something is negotiable doesn’t mean you should be quick to move out.

Perhaps the most important thing to consider at this point is the divisiveness of the issue you received negative feedback on. Does the issue elicit equally strong opinions on the positive side? Would making the requested change dilute your message in a way that will turn off your biggest fans?

If you can make a simple change to please certain fans without pissing off the die-hards, then go for it. Otherwise, proceed with caution. The more divisive the issue, the more carefully you should consider the implications of making a change.

an ear-splitting analogy

Imagine a frighteningly loud, chest pounding, ear splitting heavy metal band. Such a band is likely to repel most people. However, the people who love that band, LOVE THAT BAND. And they love them for all the reasons most people hate them. If this band were to tone down its sound to please the masses, what impact would it have on its most loyal fans?

taking constructive criticism: a real world example

The rest of this post is my process for taking constructive criticism in action. I’ll break down two components of the podcast feedback I mentioned earlier because my approaches to each of them are very different.

to shtick or not to shtick?

“If I were you, I'd drop the ‘my friend’ shtick”.

Personally, I think it’s a little harsh to call it shtick, but I understand the spirit of the comment.

Since the beginning of my podcasting career, I’ve always wanted to have a consistent way of addressing my collective audience. John Lee Dumas has “Fire Nation”; Pat Flynn has “Team Flynn”. Gary Vaynerchuk simply refers to his audience as “Podcast”.

I never came up with anything good (suggestions are always welcome), so I just started saying “my friends.” It has a natural flow, and I really like the idea of thinking of my audience members as friends. At some point, I started using the singular “my friend”, in hopes that individual listeners would feel like I was speaking directly to them as opposed to making them feel like one of many.

Does my “shtick” bother anyone except this one listener? I have no idea.

Would my core values unravel if “my friend” vanished from my lexicon? No. And I honestly haven’t thought much about it—which is why feedback like this can be so valuable. It gets you thinking about things you don’t think about or aren’t even aware of.

If I am driving my audience nuts with a little phrase, then I’m happy to consider making a change. Dropping "my friend" will neither compromise my core values or erode the quality of my content.

I still don't consider it shtick (I use “my friend” all the time in my day-to-day), but I don’t have a problem with adjusting my podcasting style to better serve my audienceor at least to annoy them a little less.

cheese? no cheese? extra cheese?

“Sometimes, you can sound really cheesy.”

When it comes to being cheesy, I have some thinking to do. If being cheesy was one of my non-negotiable core values, then the path forward would be clear: “If you can’t handle the cheddar, go kick rocks and find another podcast.”

Being cheesy is not something I set out to do, and it certainly is not one of my core values (is it one of anyone’s?).

The problem lies in the fact that I don’t feel like I’m putting on any sort of act when I’m on the mic. In my mind, I’m just being myself.

Perhaps the real revelation here is that I’m just a cheesy guy and never knew it. And if that’s the case, do I have to change who I am in order to not be perceived as cheesy? Cause that ain’t happening.

For better or worse, I don’t have the perfect answer here. I need put in some bathtub time* on it.

* A friend of mine refers to private moments of reflection as bathtub time. Feel free to steal it.

be grateful. be prepared.

Taking constructive criticism is part of the gig when putting yourself on any kind of public display, and you have to know that you can’t please everyone.

Take time to consider how you’ll process any negative feedback that comes your way (and it will come), and you’ll be more likely to make good decisions about whether to make changes or to stay the course.

As for me, I’d much rather be that heavy metal band who is despised by most, yet is adored by true fans who come to every concert, have a closet full of tour t-shirts, and buy every album you release (especially the special limited edition gold vinyl).

Serving those fans first and best is how you build something that lasts. The chameleons who will change colors for anyone...not so much.

Positive or negative, always be grateful and prepared for honest feedback. Having a framework for taking constructive criticism gives you an objective way to choose how to proceed.

And there’s nothing cheesy about that.

For an even more humorous and detailed breakdown of this topic, tune in to this podcast episode.

About the author, Aaron Schlein

Aaron's personal mission is to create a freedom-filled life for his family.
His professional mission is to help others do the same.

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