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Responding to Blogging Criticism

Thanks to Robert for linking up to ProBlogger.net while I slept last night. It’s always nice to get a positive link from a larger blogger who sends an influx of new readers into your blog.

It’s been an interesting week here at ProBlogger for this reason – after the exposure I had in the Aussie Press and a few link ups from bigger bloggers I’ve ridden the roller coaster ride of publicity. With it comes some amazing opportunities but also a few hard knocks.

I’ve been on the receiving end of a few critiques of my blogging style this week – some of which have been quite valid and helpful – others of which have been quite scathing and verging on personal attacks (and of course quite a few of these are anonymous as per usual).

So what is my response to an ‘unfair critique’? Firstly I’d say don’t ignore it – I like to see every critique/threat/attack as an opportunity to better your blog and to win over more readers. How do you do that? Over the past couple of years I’ve developed the following type of process in responding to them:

1. Take a deep breath and give yourself a little space from the criticism – One of the worst things you can do when getting a critical comment or email is to respond in the moment out of the anger, fear, confusion and hurt that you might feel as a result. Go for a walk around the block, have a coffee, ring a friend or just take a few minutes to cool down before responding. At times I’ve even left responding until the next day when I’m thinking clearer.

2. Listen to the criticism - This is not easy and I’m still learning to do it – but recently I’ve decided to actually attempt to give my critics a chance to teach me something. Perhaps they haven’t communicated it as subtly as they could, perhaps they’ve overreacted and taken it to a personal attack level – but maybe behind their rudeness and generalizations is a point – a point that can improve your blogging. A wise person once told me that behind the emotion of anger is often the feeling of fear. And behind the feeling of fear is sometimes the fact that you’ve heard something that cuts close to the truth. Does the critic have something to teach you?

3. Respond with grace - I learned the power of a graceful reply to a stinging comment or email a couple of years ago when my personal blog came under fire from a very unreasonable troll who started a widespread campaign to discredit my name. Instead of reacting out of anger and hurt I took the approach of thanking him every time for his comments and reacting in the most civilized and generous nature that I could. This had a number of results. Firstly it took the sting out of his attack – people don’t like to attack people who don’t react. Secondly it made him look very stupid and small. Thirdly my readers admired my approach incredibly. I had many comments and posts on their blogs noting how gracious I’d been. It really made an impression on them. I’ve also had instances where in responding in this way that the person who has attacked me has done a real turn around and has ended up apologizing for being so aggressive. One or two have become loyal readers and good friends.

4. Try dialogue – This week I saw a post written about me that made me very angry. It seemed to make some real generalizations about my approach to blogging and without asking me made some assumptions that I didn’t think were fair. At first I ignored my own advice above and reacted in a pretty emotional kind of way – defending myself (in the comments of their blog) and pointing out weaknesses in the other blogger’s argument. After a few comments bouncing back and forth between us I began to realize we were getting no where and decided that instead of flaming each other it might be more productive if we tried listening to each others points of view. I admitted that he was right on something and told him I’d take it on board – he then did the same thing. The dialogue actually got more productive and I actually came away from it feeling I’d learnt something from him.

5. Let it go – Sometimes you can give yourself space, you can listen to the criticism, you can respond with grace and attempt dialogue but no matter what you do the other person will not back down and continues to be totally unreasonable. These situations can be very difficult – you just get angrier and angrier – your day becomes filled with checking their blog and writing long emotional emails, comments and posts defending yourself etc. In such situations I always ask myself if the argument is actually a productive one – is it life giving to me and those who are watching on, or is it actually destructive? It’s worth being aware that your regular readers can actually become quite disillusioned by such arguments. There comes a point where you just need to disengage and let it go.

This can be hard – such interactions can be like a scab over a wound that you just can’t stop picking (eeeew – sorry for that image – I can’t believe I used it). The way I do ‘let go’ is to ban myself from the blog concerned. I have a few blogs that I refuse to look at – simply because I know they will trigger an angry and destructive reaction from me. I just don’t go there.

Ok – I know some of you now think I’m a freak and are plotting ways to test if I’m really as reasonable and calm as this process looks (I can picture the hate mail already :-) !) Let me just say that sometimes I’m good at this – other times I get as caught up in the emotion of being attacked as much as anyone. Perhaps I’ve also been on the other side of things also and have been unreasonable to someone else. Such interactions happen to all bloggers at some point and we all do things both badly and well in such interactions. I guess as I look over the past couple of years of blogging I want to learn from situations like these and grow as a blogger. Hopefully out of such times we can grow and become a little more mature in our blogging.

So how do you respond to criticism? What advice would you give?

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. duncan says:

    Interesting that he’s reading Problogger when he keeps slagging off people who dont offer full feeds :-)

  2. I made a trackback from my blog, but I figured I would add my comment to your questions here as well:

    “So how do you respond to criticism? What advice would you give?”

    In the past, I have responded to most criticism and honestly, ignored it but replied in a nice manor. This was a mistake because I should have used it to benefit myself. Advice: Respond to the criticism well and use it.

    Great article Darren.

  3. Vix says:

    Responding in a calm manner takes the sting out and ensures that you don’t say or do anything stupid.

    I agree that one of the worst things you can do is to ignore it. Address the situation in a calm, compelling manner and you’ll be alright.

  4. Ken says:

    I’ve had some criticism not with my pro blog but my personal blog from total strangers although they are affiliated in some ways with other entities I was involved with.

    The point being, I think those who outright attack someone should know better. It’s really bad etiquette and makes you look like an idiot when you start blasting someone for no reason.

    I could see someone disagreeing with you, but why be nasty? Even if the guy is right or has valid points, the fact that person chooses to get nasty about it can invalidate his/her comment nonetheless.

    And don’t get me started on the anonymous comments, those should just be totally ignored, if the person can’t own up to their own criticisms, then why bother?

    Lastly, thanks for being honest and real about this, it’s not easy being a blogger, especially when you are well known in the community, so it’s great to see someone lead by example.

  5. My favorite way of dealing with these people:

    Within moments of reading the criticism, I write an email to them telling them exactly what I think. I tell them how wrong they are and how stupid they are, call them names, tell them they’re an insult to the human race, and so on.

    Then I delete the message without sending it.

    This exercise is usually very cathartic, and a bit fun, and by the time I’m done with it I feel better. After that I ignore them, or maybe write a more reasonable reply.

    If you do this, just be careful, that “Send” button is a bit of a temptation.

  6. Tinu says:

    Great advice, and some great follow-up comments too. For the record, it’s your style of writing that keeps me coming back. And since it’s on a subject I cover, it doesn’t count as procrastination! Woo-Hoo!

    How do I respond to criticism… hm. Well, when I started out my ezine, I began to request permission to publish comments, good and bad, in the next edition. There I would thank the person and address the issue. So I agree wholeheartedly with the approach you suggest – step back, listen, react gracefully, etc.

    After a while, when my tips began to get widely published, the nice comments got better, and the not-so-nice comments got meaner. (there’s something about being seen as an e-celebrity that makes people forget that you’re a person and not an “entity”.)

    And all of that has led me to realize that there are two types of criticism – those I can use and those I can’t.

    Some of the best things people have ever said about me aren’t balanced with an unbiased viewpoint – folks that are fans of my work in general that send comments are a great ego stroke :) – and certainly make my day.

    At the same time, if they’ve been said before, I can use them only as a gauge for things to keep doing, not for ways to improve. If they haven’t been said before, sometimes that will give me an idea of what I ought to start doing more of – such as categorizing my blog and/or having multiple blogs on similiar subjects on the same page.

    That’s all to get to the point that this is also true of negative criticism. If someone gives me feedback telling me I shouldn’t be doing this or that thing, and what they’re complaining about works for me, I say thank you for your comments and leave it at that.

    Other times, even though the comment itself sometimes come across as nasty, at the heart of it can be real frustration, or a clue to something I may indeed need to change.

    So I put criticism through the same tests that I do praise.

    1- Could addressing this issue help me or my audience?
    2- Does the proposed request for change make sense for what I do? (Some critiques are well-meaning but don’t take into account a larger picture of how you do things. IE, full comments in feeds work best for some folks on some blog software and not for others.)
    3- Is this an opportunity to build a bridge, or a reason to back away slowly with a smile?

    At the end of the evaluation, I usually know how to proceed with the advice you’ve already given. Of course, that’s after a round of venting….

  7. Andy Merrett says:

    This is a really excellent call-and-response article, thanks guys.

    I did have a bit of a flame war with one of the readers of my personal blog because I made some judgements about an unlaunched web service. I tried to be civil but in the end I sensed that we weren’t going to get anywhere, so I ended the conversation and closed the comments section for that article. I couldn’t email the guy as he didn’t provide contact (but he did at least leave a name). It was going to get really personal unless I did something to end it – so I did. I’ve left the comments there as I don’t get rid of content (unless it’s purely spam) just because I don’t like it.

    I don’t think I’d be quite so reactionary in future – I’ve left some quite strong comments on other blogs (including here, for some of Darren’s guests) which could be seen as bordering on rude (sorry!) – but I try never to make things personal. If I don’t agree with a point I’ll try not to hurt the individual with that viewpoint.

    At the end of the day, comments made on the Internet have a habit of sticking around, particularly with so much aggregation. In ‘real life’ you can upset a friend in private, hurt for a couple of days, make up, its all forgotten and few other people get involved. On the Internet, you can flame someone you hardly know, and your comment can stick around for years. Heh, I’ve found archives of comments I made over 10 years ago!

  8. Whenever I’ve responded in kind to (especially) unjust criticism, it’s always backfired, leading to a degrading “flame war”. If I respond quickly, I regret it the moment I hit the Publish button. So ,as you say, it’s always best to take time before responding. Equally, to respond to a harsh critique with biting sarcasm, rather than like for like, only inflames the attacker, who thinks you’re laughing at him. Either way, harsh words never work, and in the end, make you feel ashamed of yourself.

    Whenever I see this happening on other blogs, I try to figure out what irritated the attacker, and, if it’s anything like reasonable, see if it applies to me. One constant line of criticism for anyone who offers tips, is “Where did you lift that from? I’ve read it all before many times”. So I try to give anything I write a distinctive edge, so that no-one would take it as a cut and paste job.

    Good topic, Darren. One we should all take to heart, I think.

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