Writers get a lot of criticism so tend to have to grow a thick skin, especially when working online. The internet tends to bring the inner critic out of people.
This week while I have been out of the loop due to a family emergency it seems from heads-up emails I have received that I have caught a lot of flack. Some criticism has been level-headed and reasoned, some bizarre, some offensive and some just idiotic. I wasn’t around to respond even if I wanted to, which in some cases seems to have emboldened the more, um, challenged individuals. What would I have done had I been around?
Critics Are Not Always Trying to Help
The first thing to determine is what the intentions of the criticism is. Some criticism is meant to help, some to just to vent, other times criticism is more about the critic than the criticized. It’s impossible to mind read but you can try to work out where the critic is coming from. The more crazy the attack the less likely you are to find any logic but it is worth trying.
Any Feedback is Useful
Any feedback is useful, even the (worryingly common) “YoU sUck!!!111″ type. I encourage feedback, bloggers need it. Of course though we benefit most when there are some details to work on, plus details help us work out if we need to respond and if there is anything to actually learn from.
If someone just says “I don’t like this”, whatever language they use, then you have little to work with. All you can do is listen to quantity really. Lots of people saying they don’t like something, vocally or in analytics, is a sure sign you have done something wrong for a portion of your audience. Doesn’t mean you are wrong, just there are people in your group who you are not connecting with. The bigger your audience the more likely this is to happen. I don’t often respond to generic “don’t like” unless I get a sense they want to talk, you can’t please everyone and shouldn’t even try.
“Don’t like” with details is constructive. If the person is being nice and helpful then you should try to engage the person in conversation. You can learn a lot from complaints as much or maybe more than compliments.
Fact is if someone has taken the effort to contact you in private then their intentions are more about letting you know than about gaining anything for their selfish goals.
Do You Criticize or Do You Create?
Bloggers often fall into this “criticism as content” trap. It’s all too easy, you need content, popular blogger does something you can criticize, can’t fail. Of course it does fail, and drags your reputation down with it. At the time you might get praise from your own group but the silent majority who look on just see right through what you are up to.
As the recipient of the attack you need to decide how and if to respond. Blatant link bait attacks should never be rewarded with a link. Responses are best in comments over at the attackers blog. Keep level headed and stick to the points, don’t get defensive of be dragged down to retaliation. Never repeat yourself more than once, and do not divulge details just because someone demands it.
Sometimes commenting defuses the personal nature, sometimes it inflames them, all you can do is try to maintain a measured tone.
What I try to remember is it is far easier to be a critic than create something. Critics are often people with chips on their shoulders, for whatever reason. They attack you because of something in them, not something about you.
When to Answer Critics
- Can any useful feedback be gained?
- Is there actual detail to address or are they just projecting insults and displeasure?
- Are the critics factually inaccurate or voicing opinions?
- Will joining in just perpetuate something that will blow over anyway?
- Have the critics hallucinated something they imagine you might say or is the criticism based in any reality?
- Has someone already stepped in to defend you?
I will only step in to correct something that might not be self evident. After all, anyone interested in the truth will follow links or search to find the source, anyone loyal to the critic or interested in the theater of it all will not want facts to get in the way anyway.
Remember, silence does not mean guilt and does not mean you agree. Sometimes silence is a better response than actually opening your mouth and continuing the debate.
Do you have any thoughts on when to answer critics? Please share in the comments …