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How to Handle Criticism: a Practical Guide

How to Handle Criticism: a Practical Guide

Image by Stuart Richards

As bloggers, each of us has to deal with criticism. Blogging is a very public activity—almost all of us has the goal of gaining readers to our blogs—and the more people you reach, the more likely it is that you’ll hear criticisms.

“You’re wrong…”

“How can you say that? You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I couldn’t disagree more…”

“This is the last time I read this blog!”

These are just some of the criticisms bloggers regularly face—I’ve received versions of all of these many times over the years, and if you’ve been blogging for any length of time, they’re probably fairly familiar to you, too.

Criticism can be deeply painful. As I explained here, the difficulty in dealing with criticism caused Elizabeth Taylor to ignore everything the press said about her. The discomfort of being criticised has led more than one blogger to shut down their blog, so it’s an issue that bloggers really do need to think about.

How can we manage criticism, not get dragged down by it, and maybe even benefit from it?

Embrace criticism?!

That probably sounds a little odd, but the first thing you need to do is accept—even embrace—the fact that your blog has attracted criticism.

I know that can be difficult to do, but think of it this way: you’re a blogger, and you’re tackling the tough job of putting yourself, your work, and your opinions on the line every week.

Not everyone will agree with you all of the time, but negative feedback is a sign that you’re making people think. After all, that’s one of the most common reasons why many start blogging in the first place.

Certainly, few bloggers are ever going to gleefully greet negative emails and comments the way we do positive feedback, but the first step in using that information positively is to accept it as a natural part of blogging.

Don’t take it personally—everyone gets criticisms—from the longest-standing A-list bloggers to the newest blogger on the block. It’s not pretty, but it’s part of the job.

Consider the criticism

Some criticisms are better than others. Some negative commenters just want you to know that they feel this post’s no good, or they don’t like your logo. Others are more considerate—they’ll give you reasons for their negative feedback.

There are trolls out there—people who are just negative for the sake of it—but if you cultivate the right culture of comments on your site, you’ll likely receive more valuable criticisms than trolling. If your site is the victim of trolls, you might find this post, which explains a Buddhist monk’s philosophy of dealing with “haters”, helpful.

Be careful, too, not to discount a brief criticism that lacks detail as “just trolling.” Sometimes what appears to be a thoughtless negative comment from a troll can turn out to reflect an undercurrent that’s taken up later by more constructive commenters—and that can be extremely valuable to you and your blog.

Making use of criticism

I find it’s best, wherever possible, to take the emotion out of the criticism. So if you have more than one negative comment on a post, look first for those that are written reasonably and respectfully. These kinds of readers are advancing ideas for you to consider so you can better meet their needs. Have a read, but don’t take the feedback personally, or even on board, just yet.

Now look at the remaining criticism—the angry or otherwise emotional feedback. Think as objectively as possible about how that supports the other feedback. If you could boil down the feedback to one thing, what would it be? What was it that readers didn’t like about this post or product?

Criticism often falls into one of a few categories:

  • a difference of opinion
  • a lack of perceived value
  • a sense of frustration linked to an underlying problem the reader is struggling with.

If you can work out which of these problems is at the root of the criticism you’ve received, you can do something about it.

A difference of opinion may cause you to re-check your facts, do a little research, and respond to the criticism with evidence that supports your case—perhaps in a follow-up post.

A lack of perceived value may encourage you to tweak the way you present value through your blog. It might also prompt you to post on different topics or try different approaches to the topic in question. This may even open up your blog to a broader audience over time.

A sense of frustration among readers can give you real insight into deep audience needs, and what you can do to meet them.

Take it on board

Now’s the time to take the criticism on board—but not emotionally so much as practically.

Now you know what the real issue is, you can undoubtedly think of a few ways to try to tweak your work to try to cater to the needs your readers have flagged.

“Tweak” is usually the right word here. If you take the criticism personally, you’ll be more likely to make drastic changes that can end up undermining your blog and possibly disappointing the majority of readers who like what you do and how you do it. So act with caution—but do act.

On the other hand, if the negative feedback is overwhelming, you might do well to respond (not react!) with corresponding passion, showing your audience that you’re listening, and that their feedback is important to you.

After all, they took the time to tell you what they didn’t like, which means they do care about you and your blog. A criticism says, “I want your blog to be what I want.” It’s up to us as bloggers to decide if, and how, we want our blogs to be what those readers want.

How do you handle criticism on your blog? Share your tips with us in the comments—we could all use some help handling negative feedback.

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 and LinkedIn.
  1. Constructive criticism is priceless, especially if you happen to have someone who knows their chops doing the critiquing of your site.

    General comments are great for interacting regarding the subject matter of your post topic. Though, I feel I have benefited greatly whereby people who’s opinion I trust, have laid it on the table for me(told me the cold hard facts—-in a nice way off course)!

    Agree that in some instances both the site owners and visiting commenters can be quite ruthless.

    I had some major site issues a little while back(Tech issues) and I was luckily enough to find a nice thread running on the exact same topic(the webmaster offering a fix—work around).

    I entered a long and meaningful comment, both offering genuine appreciation for the quality of the post article, plus throwing my sad and sorry plight(My sites tech melt down—Okay, probably too dramatic)!

    Amazingly, even though the problems with my site were almost identical to the topic(work around) being discussed on that site, the Webmaster responded with a kind of ” That’s just tough luck”! type of response.

    He did offer a suggestion though it had nothing to do with repairing the site problems.

    Go figure!

  2. First thing with criticisms, I usually asks myself why? If there is a valid point, I pretty much welcome it with open arms. Always look at the big picture. If it can result to improving you, we need to learn to embrace it.

  3. This post is rubbish!

    Just kidding, I received a negative comment only the other day about the title I’d given one of my recipes – “the only one you’ll ever need”. They said that “As soon as you read “the only one you’ll ever need”, the prospective chef should recoil and find an alternative recipe.”

    Firstly, the comment needed approving, and I nearly didn’t. Secondly, I took it very personally and wanted to defend my reasoning for naming it that. Have you actually tried the recipe? What do you know about it?

    In the end I approved it and left it there. Most of the comments on the recipe are highly positive, so I’m hoping someone will defend it one day…

    A few days have gone by now and I still haven’t worked out if calling a recipe – “the only one you’ll ever need” is a bad thing to do or not. It made me think!!

    • Rebrov says: 02/18/2012 at 10:45 pm

      The reader is either extremely thick or a troll. It is quite clear that the title “the only one you’ll ever need” is not literal, it can’t be. It is either the opinion of the author or a clearly deliberately conceited provocative title designed to challenge the reader. You are being far too sensitive to take this persons comments on board. They are perfectly entitled to thei opinion but this is one to dismiss and move on.

  4. yeah well you are right and does anyone can help me or give me tips to develop my site

  5. I ask for criticism from my readers as I love the reactions I get from it. It builds community if done in the right manner. You can build a good comment thread of mixed opinions.

    As for the haters out there, all the negative guys who just want to criticise for the sake of it. You can always be constructive in a reply and move on. Who are they anyway?

    How can you grow without genuine criticism? Or are you truly the best at what you do?

    Thanks Darren.


  6. It’s always difficult to handle criticism but I try to remember that at the end of the day it’s my blog to do as I please. Some people just like to be negative, and if something doesn’t sit right with me I don’t respond. However, I try to take constructive criticism and comments differently :)

  7. Jojie C. says: 02/16/2012 at 10:46 pm

    Funny, I just read this. Recently I bought an ebook. It was about 49 Ways to make a living. Firstly, I was suspicious that most of these details will be available online for free. Mind you this ebook currently costs $39. But in saying that, I followed this guy almost a year, before buying the ebook (which was a special ebook with 99 ways to make a living for $60 or individually $39 and $49. I was not surprised by the content. Especially the 99 ways. I should really just have followed my gut instinct. But I didn’t.

    As I thought, I made a connection with this guy (considering one year being part of his community on the web). I thought I would write to him and tell him what I thought of the book – especially it’s price, and that most if not all of those information are available online for free!. Of course, I know it was unsolicited advise (which was my bad and will never do again)…

    The result was, now, I can’t make comments to his websites, he has unfriended me from facebook. All I told him was that the list of how to make a money online for the price in my point of view is very expensive…. at the very least, run a spelling check.. he had many of them, which can be fixed by running a spell checker.

    The point, is I thought, I was helping him out, as it got to a point where I respect him. Only to be shut down, removed and blocked from commenting…

    With me though, I know it can be hard to be criticised, especially with the hard work you put into it. I thought I was being helpful.. boy was I wrong! But then, sometimes I say it the way I see it too, which annoyed the hell out of him.

  8. The criticism can be super hard, sometimes you come away with your tail between your legs. I know that everyone responds differently to criticism, it motivates some and terrifies others. I find myself (like so many others) stuck somewhere in the middle. I believe if you are not responding with anger, you are winning. Criticism opens up dialogue and that is very important. Great piece btw.

  9. Criticism can be really hard, especially at a young age. Over the years, I’ve learned to embrace it and divert it to something positive. I am learning to look for it, and choosing what I should listen to to improve myself.

    It’s very easy to be criticized when you put yourself out there, like having a blog or putting up a website. But I think it’s all part of the learning process for all of us.

  10. Criticism is just part of life. The most successful people in the world get tons of criticism every hour of the day.

  11. Hi Darren
    This was an excellent post. Criticism is always a bit uncomfortable, maybe even for the most confident of people. Ideally we would like to be praised rather than disagreed with or in some cases, completely ripped apart! I think the fear of criticism is one of the biggest blocks to people doing what they want, which may include blogging or some other activity where they are openly expressing their thoughts for all the world to see. Like you mentioned in your post, sometimes this criticism can serve a useful purpose. We all have our own thoughts and opinions and being up a tolerance to seeing ones that are not in line with ours is crucial if we want to achieve success in any arena.

  12. I personally had so many such criticisms,at one point of time i even felt like leaving blogging,but soon i realized that i just can’t live without blogging as at that point of time i was too much into it.

    My opinion is that even if someone criticises you,you need to accept it and carry on !!

  13. You are well experienced with this Darren because of your volume of feedback. I think many will appreciate this post and keep on going because of it.

    Different people take different criticism in different ways at different times. It depends on your character and mind at the time.

    I think the bullies will eventually get whats coming to them and learn what it feels like that way.

    50% of what you say about other people is generally a reflection of how you feel about yourself.

    People will forget what you say, forget what you do but NEVER forget how you make them feel!

  14. More great advice. Thanks Darren!

    Do you think it worth while to turn it around and ask the readers for their input? I guess you need to know your audience, but I know in public speaking I’ve had success in those types of circumstances by turning it over to the readers/listeners. It can increase engagement of the audience.

  15. Hi Darren, thanks for sharing this information. I really found it useful so have shared it on my blog my linking to it from a post: http://www.cavatica.co.uk/cavatica/online-copywriting-blog/online-copywriting-career-basics/
    Thanks again!

  16. Thus to be independent of public opinion is the first formal condition of achieving anything great. – G. W. F. Hegel

    Great spirits have always faced violent protest from mediocre minds. – Albert Einstein

  17. Funny thing about negative criticism: No matter how well you think you’re prepared for it, it always stings. For me, anyway. Personally, though, I’d rather have negative criticism than, you know, false flattery. At least it’s [sometimes] helpful.

    I do think it’s very important to keep your cool. I’ve never once gotten into an argument with someone who has negatively criticized me. I might get a little angry or upset, but usually I’ll just say “Thanks for your feedback” or, if it’s particularly nasty, just move on. And I always allow those comments, even if it’s sometimes difficult to do so.

    Thanks for the advice!

  18. I absolutely love criticism, like most I don’t like how I react to it at the time, but I love the positive and productive way it drives me forward

  19. This post is very useful.

    I must admit that my previous blog was free of negative comments (maybe because it didn’t have that big of a community). The new one is around since this month – and it did not have enough time to build any community to speak of.

    But I work on online English courses and there I have encountered criticism from the constructive ones that point out where my team and I went wrong, to the so called ‘trolls’ who comment only to say ‘it sucks’.

    I must say that dealing with the first ones is much easier and we are always thankful for pointing out our mistakes.

    But I still haven’t learned to calmly handle the other ones. Naturally, I never respond in the same tone – the rule is, after all, “don’t feed the troll”. However, it makes me upset to read that my and my team’s hard work is “sucks, just because”.

    After reading your post I might have an easier time taking things more calmly.

    So, thank you :>

  20. I love this article. As a blogger, you get used to hearing such stupid and pointless comments that don’t back up a thought you spent a ridiculous amount of time writing and trying to use. I’ll write an article about how a certain football player is better than another, back it up with multiple stats, reasons and other things to prove my point and in return I get a “this is wrong” or even better “you are stupid”. It’s annoying. Usually though, I ignore those comments because I figure its just trolls. Most responses on my blog are well thought out and I respond to those. Ones with just annoying little one liners I tend to just close my eyes to.

  21. no one really likes criticism but its something we should get used to

    it happens all the time but the key is that only really pay attention to criticism from trusted people
    and people that you respect

    i say this in terms of business but in your personal life it can be a lot more complicated

    i generally take on board feedback from a few people and then go from there

    criticism shouldnt really make you feel bad bu instead look at it as a chance of improving something, its all free education, look at like this and have this mindest and you will soon start to see things a lot more positively


  22. I am in the process of launching a new blog and I’ve already seen both positive comments and some others with criticism. In the last week I was offered (without me asking) to guest post in other blogs related to mine. I felt so honored that my job got noticed that I thought I was on the right track.

    This past weekend I actually got a comment where a guy simply said it didn’t like a post he read on my site. At first I felt bumped, then angry and wanting to retaliate and then I came to my senses and realize that it wasn’t the way to hablde it. I have to admit that I took it personally at first but like you mentioned, it is part of the job. I was aware that “becoming public” puts you in situations where some people likes your job and some others don’t. And I am okay with that.

    I don’t mind criticism, actually I tihink we need to be critized in order to become better at what we do. It’s just that some “haters” can get into your nerves once in a while and you shouldn’t allow that.

    I am a newbie in the process of finding my identity as a blogger. I’m still experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t. I’m glad I read this post today since it pretty much says how I felt after the criticism I received.

    Great post Darren

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