The other day I checked out a post by Curtis McHale on Dealing with Negative Feedback.  It was the second I’d seen in a matter of weeks (I can’t remember where the other is), and it really resonated because I’ve been dealing with more than usual lately.  I wanted to comment, but his comments were closed, so he suggested I do a post.  So here we go.

In January of 2015 I started a new thing called HeroPress.  I knew ahead of time there’d be some naysayers, so I was mentally prepared.  I was also hungry for feedback, and I didn’t care where it came from.  I wanted the impressions of every single person I ran into, and I hoovered them up.

As soon as the story hit the press I got exactly the mix of comments I expected.  WPTavern did the first article, and it drew quite a few comments.

Then someone mentioned it on Facebook.  I only get on Facebook quarterly, but for some reason Facebook felt the need to email me every post in that conversation, so I got to see a lot of it.  Things got a lot more nasty in there.

And of course Twitter was all… atwitter.

I didn’t respond to anything right away, and I was very glad I waited.  Dozens of people jumped to our defense.  Clarifying, remonstrating and just generally standing up for us.  The vast majority of the negativity was borne out of ignorance and misunderstanding.  It was amazingly gratifying to see other people take up our flag, and I think it lent a lot of credibility to us.

Watching all this go on I realized there were 3 kinds of responses to our venture.

100% Positive

These are people who said “That’s amazing!  Such a great idea!  Of COURSE I’ll give to your kickstarter!”.  They’re also the people who got angry for me at the naysayers.  “How could that say that?  They obviously don’t know you, or even what you’re really trying to do!”.

These people warm the heart and make me smile.  I hope to never lose them.  But they’re not as valuable as some others that I’ll write about below.  Unless I know them well I can never be sure if they mean it.  Maybe they mean it simply because they haven’t thought deeply enough about it to be offended.

 Genuinely Concerned

These are my favorite kind of detractors.  These are people who are uncertain if this is a good thing or not, and decide to find out before rejecting it.  We had plenty of those too.  But the wonderful thing about this kind of person is that they can reveal genuine flaws in your plan.  This tweet:

led to an extended email conversation with honest pushback, and in the end we gained a fan.  There are still things he doesn’t like about our plan, but at least now we understand each other.

These kinds of detractors are worth their weight in gold.  Welcome them, thank them, listen to them.  Consider the possibility that maybe they’re right.  This is different from imposter syndrome, this is deep, valid introspection.  You need it.

100% Negative

These are people who immediately throw up their hands in disgust at the very idea of what you’re trying to do.  We had some of that too.  These are still more valuable to me than the 100% positive because they too can shed light on flaws in your plan.  Don’t just shut them out because they obviously have no idea what they’re talking about.  They think the way they do for a reason.  Did you provide that reason?  Is your message so flawed that it’s making people angry?  Maybe not, but consider it.

How to Deal With It

First, be aware right now that it’s going to happen.  If you do or say something on the internet, someone’s going to be contradictory.

Second, think now about how you’ll respond.  It goes a long way toward not exploding and saying something hurtful to both you and the other person.

Third, ask questions.  Show respect for their opinion.  Few things stall an attack more effectively than engaging the attacker, and validating their opinion.  They might be wrong as heck, but their feelings are still there, and you could do worse than to find out why they have them.

Fourth, be aware you won’t satisfy everyone.  I eventually got on Facebook to engage some of the more ardent detractors and while I swayed most of them, a few still said they couldn’t support what we were doing.  I told them I respected that, and thanked them for taking the time to share their opinion.

What It’s All About

Respect.  If you want respect, give it.  It’ll almost always come right back.

I know lots of people that said “I can’t support what you’re doing, I don’t agree with it, but I respect the way you’re going about it, and I appreciate you listening to me”.  Someone on Facebook said “I was inclined not to like you guys from all the ruckus, but really, your attitude of wanting feedback has turned me into a fan.

These are people who will support us in the future on different ventures, ventures they agree with and want to support, because we didn’t alienate them now.  There were very few people who actually got down on us personally.  Our detractors had problems with what we were doing.  If we change what we’re doing, they can be raving fans.

But only because they got respect.


2 thoughts on “Welcoming Negative Criticism

  1. This is a very thoughtful approach to criticism. You’re right that validating opinions helps. Listening often deflates strong emotions.

    Negative feedback usually means that the person cares. It seems that much of the criticism was around semantics, too.

    I like your idea of connecting more people to WordPress community.

    It would be great to see what you do next with this. Your approach to learning from everyone will help.

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