Learn To Handle Tough Questions, Criticism & Naysayers With Confidence & Grace

I was talking with a friend the other day about his new business venture and he asked me out of the blue, “How do I respond to the naysayers?” I probed further to get the context of where he was running in to these so-called “naysayers.” He said he had several new business meetings coming up with big wigs and wanted to be prepared for their tough questions and potentially harsh comments.

Are we ever ready to hear criticism or be asked to defend our perspectives? It’s a really hard thing to handle but seems inevitable, whether it’s coming from an established businessperson or your close friends. Sometimes the “naysayers” are constructive people voicing legitimate concerns and perspectives that are helpful to think through and may provide you invaluable insight. Other times, they are down right negative and unsupportive trying to break down your ideas, offering nothing of value in return. Knowing the difference between the two types is crucial to knowing how to handle and respond to them. You have to learn to value and leverage the constructive people and manage the unconstructive ones with grace.


In a new business pitch meeting, most people are asking tough questions and may give some harsh criticisms in an effort to better understand the validity of your ideas and whether it will help their business goals—it’s nothing to take personally. In my friend’s situation, I instantly thought of public relations media training and crisis planning. A good PR person always has a worst-case scenario plan, so when the what-if does happen, they can spring in to action protecting the brand and business. Something that helps to avoid those days is media training with your public speaking folks. They may speak to reporters, live audiences, social audiences or clients. All of it requires an understanding of who you are speaking to, the business and the task at hand.

Applying these same concepts to a meeting situation would look like pre-training for the big day. Slide yourself into the shoes of the people who are going to be in the meeting and think about what each person is in charge of. What do they value? What is their expertise? Do they have certain focuses over others? What key agendas are they going to care about?

Then, think through the types of questions they potentially could ask you from their perspective.  If they are in finance, you can be certain they are going to ask questions around revenue, profit, etc. If they are more creatively inclined, you know they are going to care more about your process for creating and creative executions. Everyone is on the web somewhere these days, so it can help to do some research on each person to get insight into their personalities, interests, likes and dislikes.

Once you have all the potential what-ifs outlined and an understanding of your audience, it’s time to begin training on the types of answers and responses you’d give to their questions and critiques. They may still throw you a curve ball during the meeting but the likelihood is that you will be much better able to handle the stress in the moment and give them the information they need to feel comfortable with you.

These kinds of moments aren’t confined to new business meetings. You may find yourself in the same high-pressure situation in interviews, salary negotiations, hiring and firing, client relations, etc. All of which, can be prepared for with these techniques.

"Being prepared for tough questions and criticism is a part of being an entrepreneur."

When it comes to questioning and criticism from friends and family, some of this still rings true. They are your family and friends, so by default, you will probably take it personal. That introduces a lot of emotions into the mix that may make handling it all with grace and confidence much harder but the goal is still the same: help them to feel like their concerns are being addressed. Instead of coming from a vested interest in their business, your family and friends are coming from a place of love with a vested interest in you! That means you still can answer their questions and respond to their critiques in a way that puts them at ease regardless of the outcome.

Being prepared for tough questions like, “Why’d you quit your job to start this?” and “What if it doesn’t work out?” is a part of being an entrepreneur. Take the time to sit and think about how you’d answer questions like that. How can you prepare yourself, so you don’t rush to hurt or defensiveness? So when it does happen, you can try to understand their perspective and why they are so concerned. You can talk them through your ideas and perspective. If they are constructive, you will most likely meet each other in the middle with mutual understanding, regardless of whether you see eye-to-eye on the issue. If they continue on, offering nothing of constructive value, then you know there’s no meeting in the middle with them. That means it’s time to just let it go with love and compassion for the other person. Knowing the difference between a constructive comment and an unconstructive one is crucial here. Don’t waste your time on the unconstructive ones; focus on the constructive ones that can add value. The way you handle these tough situations, whether in a personal or business setting, are important to your reputation and business.

Now it’s your turn. How are you at handling criticism? Do you find it harder in a business or personal setting? What things are you doing to get better? Share your answers in the comments below.

Thanks for reading and be well!


Hi, I'm Tiffany! I'm a business coach and consultant who believes businesses with soul is the way to go. That's why I've made it my mission to help entrepreneurs live out their business purpose and grow their ideas into profits. Meet other like-minded entrepreneurs now in the Dreamer & Creator online community.

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