Keep Clients by Restricting Your Inner Critic

by | Jun 4, 2020 | Content Marketing, Copywriting, Digital Marketing

Focusing on flaws in your work or the client’s work is not a good way to keep customers; find where you both agree instead.

While you may not be destroying wannabe superstars with your scalding critique on TV, criticizing your clients’ performance—even one-on-one—is definitely not a stellar way to work together.

Here’s why: Criticism, no matter how well-intentioned, cuts like a knife. No one likes seeing and hearing their work being judged. Often, the recipient feels alienated from the one giving the feedback, which can leave both parties at an impasse.

But what if I told you that there’s a way to say what needs to be said without risking negative backlash? Well-placed words of encouragement and measured feedback always have a place at the table for advancing the conversation.

According to Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, you’re just not supposed to do it—criticize—especially if you want people to like you. And getting prospects and clients to like you is one way to keep them.

But how do you restrict your inner critic? Carnegie has the answer. He said instead of criticizing,

let’s try to understand [people]. Let’s try to figure out why they do what they do. That’s a lot more profitable and intriguing than criticism…”

His approach called for finding common ground—places where you agree—as a way to garner admiration. And as I mentioned earlier, getting clients to like you is one way to make it easier to keep them.

Getting Clients to Like You

This process Carnegie used to influence people is similar to a set of psychological principles laid out by Robert B. Cialdini, the master of persuasion. In his book on convincing people to do what you want, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, he spells out six principles based in psychology to do just that.

One of those principles is called the Principle of Liking; in essence, “people tend to say ‘yes,’ to those they know and like.”

The book goes on to list several shortcuts to gaining favor with people, including…

The Principle of Liking can be seen in action with complementary branding. Also known as co-branding, the purpose of complementary branding is to form a mutually beneficial relationship with another company. Put another way, co-branding is a way to find common ground.

Nike and Apple are a great example of complementary branding done right. Nike designed a new set of high-tech footwear that leverages microchips developed by Apple. The idea is that many runners, whether competitive or recreational, listen to music while they run, and so integrating tech into the footwear seemed a no-brainer. This way, runners can get their tunes courtesy of the iPod, and biometrics from Nike’s shoes.

What this means for you, specifically, as a marketer, is that forming a complementary brand is a great way to reach out and nurture a relationship with a company. By cobranding in this way, you are activating the Principle of Liking in one of its many forms: contact and cooperation.

So, if you tune into the Principle of Liking, you won’t have to criticize a prospect’s or client’s work. You can just find places where you agree.

Even More Ways to Get Prospects and Clients to Like You

There’s a thriftier way to get prospects and clients to like you. It involves how you provide and respond to feedback after you create or support content.

Josh Bernoff’s book, Writing Without Bullshit: Boost Your Career by Saying What You Mean, gives away the secret to doing this. There are multiple steps to putting his advice into practice.

First, essentially, what you want to do is get all of the ingredients you need for a recipe before you make it. For example, if you’re writing content, or material to support existing content, research before you write it, not during the process.

Writing without all you need is like jumping off a cliff without a secured bungee cord. Instead of communicating your message fully (the cord works), your messaging flops like Wile E. Coyote’s Acme Batman suit (it fails). It’s best to use an outline to organize your writing.

Then, if/when you get feedback from the client after you’ve crafted your messaging, restrict your inner critic.

This can be hard to do if you feel like you know what you’re doing. But if you’d like to keep working with a certain client, find places where you agree and modify your position.

Bernoff offers some specific wisdom on how to make client feedback easier to swallow. Rather than thinking, “What did I do wrong in this edit?,” think:

“What has this suggested edit revealed about what could be better here?” This way, you remain in charge, and you remain smart. You decide what flaws the edit has revealed, even if the reviewer did not see them. You decide in what way to fix things. It might be the way the reviewer has suggested, or it might be some other way. You seek a higher truth, a more profound way to communicate without bullshit.

More of Bernoff’s writing processes can be found here.

Bernoff’s words echo a universal truth when it comes to dealing with people—that while you can’t control what other people do, you can control how you react to them.

For example, consider the following psychological thought experiment from Kokology: The Game of Self-Discovery.

Say you’re out walking. Without warning, storm clouds quickly appear and a torrential downpour starts. Do you scramble to find shelter, or do you just hastily run to where you’re going regardless of the weather? Your answers to this question demonstrate just how you might approach feedback.

Those who tried to find some sort of shelter–building, tree, umbrella, etc.–are much more likely to react to feedback with a level head–that’s because safe spaces are generally regarded to be places where well-thought out decisions can be made.

On the other hand, those that ran are likely to shoot-from-the-hip. This is a more impulsive kind of reaction where you react immediately without thinking it through, much like how you ran in the rain, not caring how wet you got.

Keeping a level head by controlling how you react to client feedback after submitting for approval is a worthy alternative to being defensive and having your guard up against edits.


What all of the books I’ve mentioned have in common, though, is preparation. You need to prepare yourself to get clients to like you. You need to prepare yourself to receive feedback and not criticize it. Remember, keeping clients depends on how you approach criticism and whether you get stuck in the rain.

What have been the most effective ways of restricting your inner critic with clients? Share your tips with us in a message below.

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