Disagreeable but necessary?

How many instances of praise does it take to balance out one negative criticism?

I am aware of a notion called a ‘criticism ratio’, which seems primarily to have been explored in reference to the workplace. In other words, the proportion of praise against criticism (even where constructive) that a person can process yet remain effective. For ‘effective’ we might also read – what? Composed? Content perhaps? ‘Not upset’? Certainly, it’s something that affects our motivation.

Anyway, results on the criticism ratio appear to vary a little, but come out at an average of somewhere just over 5:1— that’s at least five positive comments for every negative. Obviously this quantitative average masks a lot of variables – who’s giving the criticism, how strong or mild, in what context, about what, how much had you invested in the first place…

The amount of criticism we can ‘handle’ is also dependent on the individual, of course, relating to one’s personality. Moreover, there is a difference between brushing off poor feedback and absorbing it, the latter involving reflection, taking the comments on board to inform one’s future development. But deciding which of those responses is better is itself a challenge to detached critical thinking.

I have been thinking about all this in reference to book reviews. If you write, these will test your resilience, for sure. One negative comment can shout out loud enough to reduce an otherwise positive assessment to a meek whisper. And a crushingly negative review… Well just ouch. At times, the ratio of positive to negative criticism one is able to process seems more like 15:1, not 5 or 6.

It’s not easy to process negative feedback

Three things are needed. First, to toughen up. Negative feedback is going to happen, and as long as it’s not undeniably and overwhelmingly adverse, there is no reason not to continue writing. It’s less easy if a low-star rating has pulled down your average within a modestly-sized pool of reviews, but there we go—It’s not ‘personal’, even though it may feel that way.

The second is to accept and reflect on constructive criticism where reviewers have taken the trouble to leave it. I find that process even harder, skimming comments through splayed fingers. This is the ‘nasty medicine’ of feedback, isn’t it? It tastes bad but is good for you. However, whilst the effect may not be immediate, the constructive points should eventually inform future working.

Finally, one needs to discriminate between ‘destructive’ and ‘constructive’ criticism. I imagine the malicious reviewer to be a rarity, but some reviews are ruthless whilst being brief—they leave one with little but the understanding the book was disliked. One must accept that view or preference, fine, but can do nothing else in response.

Over the past eighteen months I have vacillated on whether I should have been self-publishing at all. This is for a number of reasons. Amongst these is the internal robustness required. It’s a solitary thing to do, with no agent, editor, or ‘team’ in support, though one is grateful for the helpful beta or ARC reader. At the present time, with a lot of professional challenge at work, I plan to step back for a while, looking to rediscover the simple ‘writing for pleasure’ principle. And continue to noodle on my blog.

How do you deal with criticism, and what works best for you?
And I do wonder, if you’re a writer or creator of any kind, how do you deal with a negative review?



Zenger, J. and Folkman, J. ‘The Ideal Praise-to-Criticism Ratio’. in The Harvard Journal, March 2013.https://hbr.org/2013/03/the-ideal-praise-to-criticism

Bru-No / 44577 Images, Pixabay
athree 23 / 294 images, Pixabay

19 thoughts on “Disagreeable but necessary?

  1. I like that part “it tastes bad, but it’s good for you”.
    Personally, i both brush off and absorb the critique. If it’s destructive, and it doesnt have to be malicious, just a bunch of sentences stating that the person didn’t like the book – leaving no reason or very little reason; i simply ignore the whole thing. – and then you have the negative but constructive. those can and do hurt at times, but it shows where a particular reader had a problem with the story. If there’s a patter, eg, more than one reader say the same thing, i sleep on it and try to come up with a solution. If, however, it’s something i can’t work without changing the story, i do nothing, but i keep that in mind for future reference.
    Still, a modest reviewer will state the positive before the negative. I don’t , personally, don’t believe that there was absolutely nothing in the book likeble. for one, if the book was horrible, why would that person continue reading? Curiosity? there you are, if the reader was curious, that means there was something interesting, right? Unless that reader was paid to read in exchange for an honest review, but that’s a different topic altogether.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I concur with your approach. If there’s simply a lower rating and a flat ‘didn’t like it’ type comment, there’s nothing more one can do. On the balancing positive with negative, that’s how I try to approach a book review myself – summarise a view, say what I liked then (where applicable) what I liked less and (importantly) why. Pay for review is another topic yes. To be honest, I can understand why people get tempted – with all the pressure to get good reviews and maintain a certain star rating, but it’s a dark art.


  2. Every book has something positive- always. Even if I can’t finish it. But then…i don’t review it at all.
    How to handle a negative review? Can’t please everybody. If I am as the author happy with the writing- it will find the way to someone’s heart. I wouldn’t tolerate 80% of negative reviews – 20% positive tho…😂😂 only vice versa

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I must say I agree – I rarely find a book with no merit or something positive to say at all. I think the only (rare) exceptions are when someone has made totally cynical attempt to cash in on e-books by producing something with clearly zero effort. And yes, it seems we all have our own person praise / criticism ratio – my own varies depending on the day!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Cash-on is very popular today bcz ppl don’t wanna (and think they don’t need to) to work & put some energy + money in the book (editors/design etc). I personally bought e-books with only 20 -30 pages to read & it was such a waste of …of the inet-space 🙂
        Some days reviews r more angry if person in a hell-bad mood 🙂 but from the other side it tells a bit about a person too. I never write reviews when I’m in the bad mood. I actually don’t wanna write at all if I’m in the bad mood 🙂 haha

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, on the days one doesn’t like the world that much, writing a review probably isn’t fair.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. But some does lol some ppl enjoy throwing around the angry fire 🔥

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Although it’s natural to want only praise, I find that negative reviews can be useful as long as they reflect a thorough reading of the book. What isn’t so useful is the “reviewer” who claims he or she couldn’t get past the first few pages. I ask that reviewers follow one simple rule: if you didn’t read it, don’t review it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll second that – whilst on one hand not being able to ‘get into’ a book may not be a good start, one cannot judge its entirety on the first pages alone. I also get a little baffled if I see a poor review on a book of a particular genre that states ‘not my type of thing…’

      Liked by 1 person

  4. How does one deal with creative review… Good question.
    I guess, the first issue is “who”. The source is important. How unbiased is it?
    Then “What”? Are there grounds for the criticism? Stuff you can work on?
    And “how many”? As a law professor in Grad school once told us students:
    “If one person calls you a mule, you can laugh. If ten do, go buy yourself a saddle”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s a great way of putting it in terms of ‘how many / much’ bad review one receives. Whilst the occasional bad review may be hard, it is, as so much in life, a question of proportion. I wonder where the point lies of tipping from divided opinion into consensus.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 80/20? 90/10? There will always be criticism. Some people cannot ever see the good or the positive. So one has to live with it.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Indeed. Or, as the oft-quoted phrase from American writer and philosopher Elbert Hubbard has it: “Do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing, and you’ll never be criticised.” Not a good option.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Elbert Hubbard? I’d never heard of him. Thank you for the introduction. Died in the Lusitania… The shamelessness of war.
            And I agree, it is not an option.
            Be good.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Very well said. Criticism is a wonderful tool provided used wisely

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Destructive vs. Constructive are key. I’m glad you brought that up. Once the person on the receiving end recognizes that they know if they need to listen or not.

    This is a great topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Getting reviews / feedback can bit a bit emotional if you’re invested, e.g. produced something creative. I think we all recognise when we need to take notice (or to let it go), but admitting to it and responding may need time.


  7. Criticism is hard if it’s your baby we’re talking about. It’s hard to just be humble and accept it. But if you don’t have tough skin, you probably don’t have any place inthe arts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. In any workplace a degree of thickness to the skin is useful, but if you want to create and put it out there, being able to process criticism is essential.


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