A Guest Post by Celestine Chua from The Personal Excellence Blog.
It’s been over a year since I started The Personal Excellence Blog. As my blog grew, I received many feedback, many of which are positive. Occasionally I get negative feedback which I do my best to learn from. Flames are a rare occurrence and even then, they are usually short and unsubstantial.
That changed 3 weeks ago, when I received a flame the length of an essay. It was a reply to my latest 5-part article series on moving on from relationships, sharing my story of how I moved on from a heartbreak and how others can do the same too.
The anonymous commenter described my series as “incredibly self-centered and biased”. She had somehow concluded from the articles that I was “ridiculous”, “delusional”, was pursuing personal development with “superficiality”, among other points.
After reading it, I was filled with bewilderment. The comment bordered more as an attack than constructive criticism.
How I Handled the Flame & Why You Shouldn’t Act Like I Did
Even though the comment wasn’t entirely constructive, I approved it as I wanted to be transparent with the different comments my blog was getting. I thought there were interesting points worth sharing. Some readers replied. One reader wrote a comment which I thought was pretty constructive.
To be honest, at this stage I didn’t feel negative or angry at the flamer. Overall, I thought most of her points were irrelevant, some were out of the line, a couple were interesting and worth thinking more deeply about, but nothing that would make me angry.
My sentiments quickly changed when the flamer posted a 2nd comment – this time, a curt reply to one of my readers. I got annoyed. What was that for? It was okay if she wanted to flame me for whatever reasons, but to extend it to a reader who was trying to be constructive?
Ticked off, I replied to the flamer with a reply that started off neutral but ended off quite defensive and pissed. I remember it was 3am when I was writing the reply to the flamer, and I had an interview scheduled for 4:30am (I live in Singapore, whereas the interviewer was 13 hours ahead). It didn’t help that I had a particularly hectic week then. Earlier in the week, I slept only a total of 5 hours over 4 days, preparing for a workshop at my personal excellence school. I was not in my best state of mind. This was where things went wrong.
I thought that would be the end of it. But it wasn’t. The flamer replied with a third comment that was the length of an essay. It was equally aggressive as her first comment, if not more.
On top of that, a lurking reader now joined in the discussion. She questioned my defensiveness in my reply and my approach in handling criticisms. Not only that, she also raised questions separate from the article and the flames. She asked about my intentions behind my endeavor and what I was trying to achieve. She also questioned the validity of my credentials and achievements in my About section.
To be honest with you, I felt quite depressed after reading the comment. Fighting off flames was one, but to have a reader doubt my intentions and credibility was like questioning the very values I stood for. One of my values is authenticity (truth) and I’ve always took pride in being upfront in all my communications. Many things I do at my blog are for my readers and it was upsetting to be questioned about my intentions.
In retrospect, it was more of all the different real life and online events that had culminated together and weighed me down, rather than just the comment itself. As her concerns were more specific to her rather than general reader concerns, I wanted to email her directly. However, she didn’t leave her real email. I thought whether to ignore the comment or reply.
In the end, I thought if this reader has this concern, it’s possible there would be others with similar thoughts. I chose to reply and take the opportunity to remedy the situation.
Remedying the situation
Since the flamer’s follow-up reply had the same hostile tone and aggression, I did not approve it. It was clear she was not here to constructively discuss, so I disengaged from further discussion.
With regards to the reader, I thought over my reply to the flamer and recognized it was indeed defensive. I wrote a long follow-up reply to the reader’s comment, also addressed it to my readers. In my comment,
- I acknowledged I was harsh with the flamer and apologized to those who may have been taken aback by it. I explained the reason for my defensiveness so others could understand why I acted the way I did.
- I wrote detailed responses to the reader’s concerns, regarding my intentions behind my endeavor.
- I provided detailed proof for my credentials and achievements.
- In the whole reply, I wrote it with heartfelt intentions, with the hope that it would be received in the same manner.
After writing this, I felt lighter, like a burden was lifted off me. While before I was wondering whether to reply or not, after writing it I immediately felt it was the right decision. Explaining the situation earnestly helped to clear the air and any possible concerns lurking in readers’ minds. Later on, I received positive feedback from my readers later for the reply.
From this episode, I’ve learned 7 key steps on how to handle flamers which I want to share with you. These will be critical in your blogging journey, especially if you run a prominent blog or if you plan to really grow your blog :
7 Key Steps To Handle Flamers With Grace
1. Keep your cool
When you receive a flame, you’re probably itching to fire up and give the flamer a good lashing out. While you might not think twice about being defensive elsewhere, the situation is different here since you are the blog owner. People are going to look towards you to conduct yourself appropriately and in a manner consistent with how you normally present yourself at your blog.
Even though your readers and you have not met in person before, many of them form mental images of you and conclude they know you based on what you share. You probably have good reasons to be defensive, but they wouldn’t know since they don’t know the complete picture.
For example, how would you feel if the normally composed Darren lashes out violently to a flamer at Problogger? You’d be thinking “What happened to Darren?! Is this the Darren I know?” This was what happened at my blog. I am normally calm, reflective, positive and upbeat, but in my reply to the flamer, I was angry and defensive. This probably surprised some readers.
Furthermore, defensiveness prevents you from thinking coherently. You might end up saying things or doing things you regret later on, like what happened in my case. Not only that, you will be trapped in the defensive stance as you keep defending yourself from whoever replies. Defensiveness is like a trap that locks you in further every step of the way.
Be the bigger person and keep your cool. Go air your head if you feel you are bogged down by this. Take a walk, do some other work, watch a movie and come back to it later. You need to be clear headed to proceed to the next step.
2. Assess the flame objectively
Whatever the flame is, it didn’t erupt out of nowhere. Take an objective stance as you read the flame. Is there any nugget of truth behind what was written? Any points worth noting? Anything worth looking into?
For every one person who has such concerns, it’s possible there are more out there. The flamer may not have presented himself/herself appropriately, but don’t let that fault the message he/she is trying to convey. Read the flame and cross examine yourself. I did that with the flame I received and took away some learning points. In comparison, if I kept thinking this person was just out to get me, I wouldn’t be able to take away anything.
One tip that helps me maintain objectivity is to get opinions from friends. More heads is always better than one. Since they are your friends, they might be inclined to react in your favor, so let them know that you want to improve and you just want their honest, objective opinions.
Some questions you can ask:
- Is this person being unreasonable?
- What do you think is his/her concern?
- Is there any validity behind the comment?
3. Decide if you want to deal with the flame
It’s up to you to decide how you want to handle this. I’m open to different views and opinions, hence I approved the 1st flame. If you find there are notable points in the flamer’s comment and the flamer isn’t being too out of the line, I recommend to share with your readers. It’s always good to hear an alternate point of view. People prefer blogs over traditional news channels because the former offers a fresh perspective while the latter is usually censored and one sided. You don’t want to turn your blog into a censored information stream.
4. Reply fairly if you decide to approve the flame
Make it clear that everyone’s opinions will be heard, but anger and hate will be disallowed. – Ravi
Your blog is your domain. Treat it like it’s yours. Be polite in your response to the flame, but be stern. Show other commenters that you can keep your cool under pressure, but do not back down from your position. Agree to disagree, and move on to the next comment. If flaming by the same person persists, politely ask him to cease. If not, ban him/her from commenting. They’ve been warned :) – John
Learn from the good, discard the offensive, be respectful to all. – Lionel
If you decide to approve the flame, your readers may respond to it, but ultimately everyone will look towards you to give your stand. The following will help in your reply:
- Lay down commenting guidelines. Generally: (1) While everyone is encouraged to share his/her opinion, please do so with civility. Anger, hate and attacks towards anyone will not tolerated. (2) Any further behavior like this will not be entertained.
- Be assertive. You are the blog owner and your readers will look to you for direction on what to do.
- Don’t fan the flames. Fanning the flames means to react defensively or attack back. Like I mentioned in Step 1, keep your cool. Flamers thrive in negativity and anger, so you are only helping the flames to grow into a fire. As you have seen from my example, my defensiveness resulted in another flame being thrown back. There’s no end to it when you fight fire with fire.
- Be emotionally generous with the flamer. To be emotionally generous means to be generous with your love and kindness. When I was young, I used to be selfish and judgmental. I was emotionally stingy and honestly it was an ugly persona which I wasn’t proud of. The flamer may have been rude and it’d be the easier way to react to him/her rudely, but it’s more rewarding to react in kindness. One of my favorite quotes is from Peaceful Warrior – ìThe people who are the hardest to love are the ones who need it the most.î. You’ve experienced how nasty it is to be on the receiving end of an assault. Don’t act in the same way towards him/her.
- Address the flamer’s concerns. Be earnest in addressing the flamer’s concerns. If there are areas where you are wrong, be ready to own up. (next step).
Related articles on responding to criticisms:
- Responding to Blogging Criticism
- How to Deal with Negative Comments on Your Blog
- 8 Helpful Ways To Deal With Critical People
5. Be open to possibility that you can be wrong too
We can’t always be right all the time. And you know what? It’s entirely okay. It is through our wrong actions that we learn.
If you have indeed made a mistake, own up. If your readers are truly supportive of you, they will be more than willing to forgive you. Not only that, it will also help you build your credibility. I believe the real reason why your readers regularly read your blog isn’t because you are a know-it-all in your niche. They come to your blog because they see you as a real person who is sincere with valuable thoughts to share. This is the same for my blog readers.
6. If the same behavior continues, disengage and drop the person
If the flamer at your blog does not change his/her tone, draw the line and cut him/her off (appropriately). Your blog is a medium for your readers too, so you have a responsibility to maintain a positive reading experience. They don’t want to be surfing your blog and reading bitter spats that’s just between 2 to 3 people. It’s not their business and you shouldn’t make it their business.
If you want to resolve the flamer’s issues but you don’t think it’s reflective of general reader concerns, take it offline. Ask for him/her to email you, where both of you can talk it out. If he/she doesn’t email you, then it’s probably not worth your time to bother.
7. Learn and improve from this experience
There is always something to learn, something to take away from every experience. I had learned many things from this experience, some of which I had shared with you guys through this article.
- I learned defensiveness isn’t a solution and it will only fan the flames. (Step #1) Fanning the flames = Fire that gets out of hand.
- I also learned it’s okay to be wrong and it’s more important to own up if you are indeed wrong than insist on your stance. (Step #5)
- While there was no resolution between the flamer and I, I did note down several points from her comments which might reflect blind spots about myself. These are areas I’ll look into further as I continue writing at my blog.
Getting Flames Has Its Positive Sides
This might seem counter-intuitive, but at the end of the day, this experience helped me realize receiving flames has its positive sides.
1. You and your blog have achieved a certain mark
If you are just running a small blog with a readership of 2 a day (of you and your mom/dad), chances are no one is going to flame you. People aren’t going to bother to reading and criticize you with long messages. It’s only when your blog grows to a certain size when flames start coming in. Clearly, flamers regard your blog and you in some manner, and that’s why they make the effort to flame you.
Thus, as your blog grows bigger and bigger, you will receive more flames. As my blog grew in the past year, I have gotten more negative criticisms which I see as a positive sign. That’s because it means (1) my blog is growing and reaching out to more people and (2) these criticisms help me to improve. I’m prepared for more negative criticisms and more flames as I grow my blog. It’s part and parcel of growth.
2. It lets you know the readers who care
If you have readers who care for you, they will step up to defend you. This was what happened for me. After I approved the comment, several readers stepped in to defend me. I didn’t know some of them, so it was definitely very encouraging and heartwarming to witness their support. I also received more encouragement messages via email and private messages, which made me feel there were people out there who really cared for me.
3. Shows you your blind spots
Blind spots are parts of us which we are unaware of. All of us, no matter whether we are a problogger or a new blogger, have our own blind spots. These blind spots prevent us from growing our blog to the next level.
While flames may not be pleasant to receive, they give you a perspective different from the one you have been using. Even the inability to deal with the flames appropriately reveals your blind spots. This recent experience dealing with this flame has helped me uncover more blind spots which will be important in my growth.
4. How you reply can help you win trust among your readers
If you reply the flame in a graceful and constructive manner, it will help you win trust among your readers. This helps to establish stronger credibility. My 1st reply to the flamer wasn’t one I was proud of, but I worked to address it through a follow-up reply, where I explained my situation earnestly to my readers. My readers followed up with supportive messages and it was great to get the affirmation on their support.
At the end of the day, everyone will have different opinions. You can account for them as much as possible, but if someone chooses to interpret what you have written in a different manner, it is that person’s choice. You don’t have a choice over whether people want to flame you or not, but you do have a choice over is how you react and what you learn from the situation. The key is to react appropriately and fairly (Steps 1-6) and get the maximum learning out of the situation (Step 7).
Check out my other guest post at Problogger How To Get Featured By The Press (Repeatedly) Even If Your Blog Is New, which shares how you can get your blog featured by in press and media.
Celes writes at The Personal Excellence Blog, where she shares her personal stories and insights on how to live your best life. Some of her top reader favorites are 101 Things To Do Before You Die and Are You Sleepwalking Your Life Away?. Add her on Twitter @celestinechua.