The album was certified gold within 17 weeks, and then platinum, only eight weeks later. The album stayed on the charts for over a year, eventually selling over 1.6 million copies and it is Cole's second highest-selling album to date.
Upon its release, The Way It is garnered generally favorable reviews from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a rated mean out of 100 from mainstream critics, the album received a score of 77. Andy Kellman of Allmusic rated the album four out of five stars. He felt that "from the opener, the album seems to be set up like a linear narrative about a crumbling relationship, but it doesn't quite play out that way, with the scenes shuffled out of order. None of it's all that profound, but Cole sells it all extremely well. [Her] voice is sweet and ringing, like a wiser version of Lil' Mo who has had to weather a tremendous amount of drama. She could be around for a while." Janet Tzou, writing for Entertainment Weekly found that "Cole certainly nails all the basics on The Way It Is: big-name guest talent and husky ballads lamenting those tricky matters of the heart. But Cole's native Oakland, California upbringing gives her vocals depth and her songs a genuine, lived-in feel."