No one likes to be criticized. But if you're in the public eye, you're going to face criticism.
Some critics will be condescending, some kind, and some cruel. Whatever the variety of criticism, you must be prepared to deal with it.
Much of your personal brand criticism will come through the conduit of social media and other public forums. For this reason, the criticism is not only personal in nature, but public in visibility. Dealing with criticism, then, will be part of your digital public record. In essence, the criticism that you receive and how you treat it turns into a component of your personal brand.
Viewing criticism as a facet of one's personal brand may be an uncomfortable reality, but it is a helpful way to set the stage for dealing with criticism. Such a perspective will advise you on when to ignore the criticism and when to face off in a strong way.
Here are some of the guidelines that I've followed for dealing with criticism.
Try to understand the critic.
One key to dealing with the criticism is to understand the person who is criticizing you. Where are they coming from? What's their motivation? Is this a customer or a client? Do they have a large platform or a small platform?
The more you know about the critic, the better you can deal with their concerns.
Seek to understand the criticism.
What is the criticism? Is it something that you can learn from? Try to strip the criticism of its incendiary language and get at the essence of what they're saying.
- They don't like the style of your clothes? No big deal.
- They got cussed out by one of your sales reps? Apologize.
- They're jealous of your fame? Ignore it.
Once you understand the criticism, you'll know how to respond.
Accept but don't internalize the criticism.
Pretending that the criticism doesn't exist is an artificial way to live. Instead, you should simply accept that, yes, you've received criticism. There, it's done.
Accepting it is important, because it allows you to view the criticism objectively--as something outside of yourself, something you can look at and critique. If, on the other hand, you internalize the criticism, beating yourself up and bemoaning your fate, you lack the ability to learn from and move on from the criticism.
Don't deal with everything.
Perhaps the biggest mistake in dealing with personal brand criticism is trying to deal with everything--every email, comment, phone call, DM, message, text, and whatever else.
You're too good for that. There will always be snipers, haters, and enemies. Why worry yourself with their sad lives and pessimistic perspective? Dealing with their every whine will only depress you and distract you from what you do best.
Let the critics do their thing, but you do your thing--being awesome and benefiting from it. Most people have more fans than haters, so choose to listen to the positive ones.
If the issue amasses media scrutiny, hire a PR firm.
Sometimes, you'll have to deal with a whale.
Rather than attempt to deal with all the public attention yourself, get some outside help. There are agencies whose service is precisely to deal with such issues.
Quietly correct a mistake, and let your critics know.
Often, you'll receive criticism for something very small and petty--a blog typo, a factual inaccuracy, or something equally mundane.
In such cases, simply correct the problem, and move on. You can reply to blog commenters or Twitter messages that say simply, "Thanks for bringing it to my attention. The issue has been addressed."
If necessary, transition to a private forum to deal with a critic.
It's surprising how quickly you can mollify an angry critic once you get him on the phone. If the situation escalates to the point where you're receiving personal and persistent feedback from an individual, do your best to get him on the phone and have a personal conversation.
Much of the critic's bitterness will dissipate when you have the chance to speak. If he can't or won't chat on the phone, then try to keep your correspondence off the public record. Emails and DMs are fine, but remember, if you go ballistic he may choose to share your words publicly, which will serve to discredit you.
If the issue addresses publically-acknowledged violations of ethics or law, be quick to apologize.
Remaining defensive does nothing to assuage your culpability, and it certainly won't make the controversy go away. Go ahead and offer an apology.
For some issues, be willing to hunker down and wait it out.
Every storm of criticism will eventually come to an end. You may simply have to wait for it to happen.
Personal brand criticism is similar to news trends. A big issue will occupy the networks for a while, and then it simply disappears. Personal brand criticism operates in much the same way. You face it for a while, get a lot of traffic, take a lot of flak, and then it's over.
If the criticism is weak and unfounded, deal with the issue, not the person.
Remember, you don't want to nuke the critic. Deal with the substance of the criticism, not the critic herself.
It's hard to make a separation between attack and attacker. Besides, it's a lot more adrenalin-pumping to engage in an all-out flamewar.
While it's certainly a temptation to pull out the flamethrower and give it to the critic, keep this tip in mind. Few people will respect you or your brand if you have the best comeback or the most scathing one-liner.
To respond in kind is to lower yourself to the level of your sniping critic and to disgrace yourself with petty battles. You're better than that. Treat everyone with respect even if they don't deserve it. Deal with their gripe, but don't tear them apart personally.
Handling criticism is hard, precisely because it's so intensely personal. Knowing when to deal with it and when to ignore it is the first decision you'll have to make. The second decision is figuring out what to say.
If you can successfully answer the first question--knowing which issues to address--you'll be much further ahead in your defense against the critics.
Have you faced personal brand criticism? How did you respond?