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Client criticism can hit hard. 

The trouble is, clients rarely have any reason to deliver feedback well. Most often when they complain, there has been an emotional ‘trigger’ that has set them off, like having an estimate overrun or a treatment fail. All of this means that when they give feedback, the presiding emotions are fear, anger, or frustration.

That makes for harsh messages that are hard to swallow. Taken the wrong way, it can lead to lower confidence levels, a dislike of clients, and ultimately a dislike of work. Needless to say, these are all bad outcomes. 

But what if there was another way to view these challenging moments? One that led to growth and satisfaction? Read on to explore an alternative option that might help you to enjoy your work more.

Why Client Criticism Can Hit so Hard

Fundamentally, all human beings crave human connection. 

For millennia, humans have relied on their communities for survival. No matter who you are, the desire to be liked is ingrained into your very DNA. And while humans still do rely on communities to survive, our ‘people-pleasing’ tendencies can hinder us more than help.

Being criticized can be perceived as a threat to our standing in our community, hence why we tend to pay attention to this kind of feedback.

So How Can I Deal with Client Criticism Constructively?

1. Let it All Out

Client criticism can be really useful, especially if it highlights an issue that has been overlooked. But regardless of whether the feedback is constructive or not, getting critique evokes a range of emotions. 

If you feel that you have been negatively affected by a comment from a client, let it all out. A problem shared is a problem halved, and unloading your feelings can take a load off your shoulders.

But be mindful of who you are speaking to. Venting to someone who is in a similar situation may result in confirmation bias, which won’t give you a good perspective. Talking to a mentor or senior staff member may be more constructive as they have greater experience and insight. 

2. Take Some Space

Because of the personal nature of client feedback, it can be difficult to respond professionally. 

If a client makes a cutting remark to you at work, take some space. If you receive a formal complaint, give it a few days until you respond. Most practices have a formal process when it comes to complaints, so always immediately check in with a manager on what the next steps are. 

There will likely be an initial acknowledgment of the issue, followed by some data gathering and evaluation. Later, there should be a communication phase to attempt to resolve the issue.

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3. Evaluate Whether the Criticism Has Validity

Some feedback is useful, and some is not. 

As a professional working in an emotionally charged environment (handling sick, injured, or dying pets) there will be times when those emotions are directed your way. 

It’s important to separate valid critique from emotional shrapnel. So if you are grappling with a hurtful rebuke, try writing down the ‘facts’ of the situation. What has happened, and could you have reasonably done anything to better it? Don’t beat yourself up, mistakes are human. Taking ownership isn’t the same as placing blame.

If you fix the underlying issue, then you’re not only learning something but taking steps towards preventing the same pain from happening again. This is a far healthier way of dealing with issues than blaming others or wallowing in self-pity.

4. Put Yourself in the Other Person’s Shoes

Often, when we receive criticism, we can get into a ‘us vs. them’ mindset. This is understandable. It’s hard to be diplomatic when someone is going for your throat.

But doing this can hurt us more than it helps. Yes, it can feel good in the moment, but by painting someone as wholly bad, we take away agency from ourselves and surrender to the wrath of others. 

If you start believing that all clients are inherently ‘bad’, then you’ll stop trying to work on the things within your realm of control. This will, in turn, not improve the situation, and your perception of work will sour. 

Putting yourself into someone’s shoes gives you invaluable insight into the causes of their frustration. And if you can successfully identify the cause of their behavior, you’ll be able to take steps towards making these occurrences less frequent.

5. Your Work Does Not Dictate Your Worth

Veterinarians place a lot of value into the quality of their work. 

It’s hard not to, given both the stakes and how much time vets dedicate to their jobs. So when they receive client criticism, it hurts both professionally and personally. Critique can feel like a slight on our character, rather than feedback. 

Remember that your work performance does not dictate the overall value! Life goes on outside of the clinic, and the opinion of one person doesn’t shape who you are. After all, we are more than vets, we are people.

The Bottom Line

Client criticism can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it is a necessary part of professional growth. Honest performance feedback can provide valuable insight if delivered well. But on the other, it can be painful- killing our confidence and passion for work. 

But if you look past the pain and to the core of the issue, client feedback can be really helpful. Yes, it’s never going to be enjoyable, but if you listen and respond carefully, you’ll not only impress the client but impress yourself by turning something negative into something positive.

Summary: 

  • Receiving client criticism can hit hard.
  • To take client criticism more constructively, lean on others, take space, be objective and utilize emotional intelligence.
  • Remember, your job doesn’t dictate your worth, so don’t take it too personally!

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