Grind Your Teeth and Then…?

Sometimes I think Seth Godin is writing just for me because one of his recent posts about graciously accepting critical feedback came across my Twitter feed shortly after we got a “you don’t advertise enough” comment on a survey.

My suspicion is that since she is a season subscriber and doesn’t need to pay close attention to our advertising, the digital billboard at the center of town and the special emails her husband receives are probably slipping under her notice. Those are just the communication channels I know with certainty they encounter.

Getting this type of feedback can make you grind your teeth in frustration. But for a commenter of the type that Godin previously labeled the Generous Skeptic, providing this type of feedback because you care about the person or business can involve a degree of vulnerability.

When the generous skeptic speaks up, she’s taking a risk. If you respond to her generosity by arguing, by shutting down, by avoiding eye contact or becoming defensive, you’ve blown it. You’ve taken a gift and wasted it, and disrespected the gift giver at the same time.


“Tell me more about that,” is the useful and productive response, not, “no, you’re wrong, you don’t understand.”

There’s always time to ignore this feedback later. Right now, dive into it, with an eager, open mind. It’s a gift you’re not often offered.

In his previous post about the Generous Skeptic, Godin spoke in the context of individuals interacting. In his most recent post, he illustrates how the interaction might manifest between a business and an individual.

You can react to the feedback by taking it as an attack, deflecting blame, pointing fingers to policy or the CEO. Then you’ve just told me that you don’t care enough to receive the feedback in a useful way.

Or you can pass me off to a powerless middleman, a frustrated person who mouths the words but makes it clear that the feedback will never get used. Another way to show that you don’t care as much as I do. And if you don’t care, why should I?

One other option: you can care even more than I do. You can not only be open to the constructive feedback, but you can savor it, chew it over, amplify it. You can delight in the fact that someone cares enough to speak up, and dance with their insight and contribution.

Your first reaction to getting criticism may always be to grind your teeth. As bad that might be for your dental bills, you have a choice about what you do next, either as an individual or a company.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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