Is This the Hill You Want to Die On?: 5 Tips for Dealing with Maddening Client Feedback

Posted on Tue, Apr 11 2017 9:00 am by Jon Mikkelsen


It comes with every job, whether you're a copywriter, playwright or bricklayer; we all get feedback. And we all hate it. Here are five tips on keeping your cool and maintaining your sanity.

  1. Always love your worst idea.

Early in my career, I thought I could outsmart a demanding client by presenting two half-baked ideas and one that I loved. I figured they would, of course, see my brilliance and choose the one I was most passionate about, allowing me to indulge my personal creative jones. I'm sure you can guess what happened. They chose the concept I almost considered a joke. Inside, I was humiliated and outwardly, I was frustrated. I was stuck working on a project I did not believe in. I coined a phrase I utter to this day, “Always love your worst idea.” If you can't find passion in your least-liked idea, get rid of it and come up with something new. Don't start out at a disadvantage, lead with your best stuff.

  1. Is this the hill you want to die on?​

A friend is fond of war metaphors and this might be her favorite. It can be tough to get some perspective when you are dealing with multiple projects, deadlines and drafts. But it is critical that you try to get a larger view. Paradoxically, I have found that this is easier to do when you look deeper into yourself. Many times, if I am reacting strongly to a particular piece of feedback, I can usually trace it back to some insecurity I am having about the project. I have to tell myself something along the line of, “Would it kill you to add that section of boilerplate they are so fond of?” Most of the time, the answer is, “no.”

  1. What if the answer to the above question is, “yes?”

It can be difficult to think clearly when a client has feedback that drives you particularly bonkers. You can easily get caught in a rage spiral listening to all the changes they want. Caution is warranted here because you may misinterpret some changes in the middle of your inner volcanic eruption. Take a breath. It'll be alright. I have found it helpful to repeat back what their feedback is. This can clear up misunderstandings. But it also allows you time to compose your thoughts and present your argument for why you feel your way is the best way. It helps if you can articulate how your way is advantageous to the goals of the project and the client.

  1. Sometimes, the client is right!

Seems impossible, I know. But you have to allow yourself the gift of surprise. Be open to hearing what they say and to the possibility that they may be right. They have more invested in this project than you do. Most likely, you have other projects from other clients sitting on your desk. This is all they've got. They know this project and its goals inside and out. They could, just maybe, just possibly, be right.

  1. Getting feedback is like stepping into an alternate universe.

You know those science fiction stories where the hero gets a glimpse of how the world would be if they had made different choices? Feedback can be the same thing. I recently enrolled in a copywriting intensive from the country's leading literary organization. The class was great and the instructor informative and enlightening. She gave great feedback, but at one point semi-apologized for the amount of feedback she had given and thanked me for being patient. I looked at her feedback as a glimpse of better work. In some cases, it propelled me in a new direction. In other cases, it just meant to stop putting two spaces after a period. Her guidance helped clarify my thoughts and sped up my workflow. It can be difficult to see this silver lining in the heat of a deadline, but it can help.

Getting feedback and having to find a creative way to implement it can be frustrating and infuriating. But knowing how to let the force of the “criticisms” carry you to new insights can be a great tool in your future writing.

Jon Mikkelsen is the Creative Director for the National Theatre for Children. He served as the head writer for the nationally syndicated sketch comedy show M@dAbout and has authored a book series called We Are Heroes, which encourages kids to volunteer in their communities. Mikkelsen was also a student at a recent Loft class called Creative Copywriting Intensive: Building Your Portfolio, taught by Mary Ringstad. This piece was collaboratively written for that class and The Writers' Block blog.