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How to Handle Criticism: a Practical Guide

Posted By Darren Rowse 6th of February 2012 Featured Posts, Miscellaneous Blog Tips 83

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, Google+ and LinkedIn.
  • We get criticized every once in a while because of our actions. For example, the criticism may be related to the latest blog post we published or a digital product we just released to the public.

  • this post is just in time for me. I’m embarking on something that I really didn’t think I had in me and I assume there will be a great deal of criticism involved. This is especially true since I will be giving people advice that goes against what society has engrained in them almost from birth. I think it will be challenging to get people to realize that they don’t necessarily need college to be successful and that they can use their self taught skills to push ahead but I’m looking forward to the challenge because it’s something I really believe in.

  • Also consider the expertise level of person making the criticism. If someone like Darren makes a suggestion, I’m going to give his comment a lot more consideration than one from someone who just launched their blog two weeks ago.

  • I actually love criticism. Some of it is valid and shows you faults that you didn’t see yourself and some of it is crap that you use a motivation. Welcome and embrace it and you will always come out on top!

  • One great example I’ve come across is a Steve Jobs video that’s been going around. He responds to a pretty insulting question in a really classy way. I blogged about it in more detail.

  • There’s a difference between criticism and people lashing you with verbal abuse. I’ve gotten both, depending on what I’ve blogged. You can ignore the “you’re wrong” “you’re stupid” “you’re a moron” replies, gotten plenty of those, but there are times when you’re told “I hope you get cancer and die a horrible slow death” it makes you angry.

    There’s a fine line between an opinion and bullshit, unfortunately people err on the side of bullshit often. They don’t bother having an opinion on the subject, I don’t care if they disagree, but when you slam the blog owner for daring to have the opinion in the first place and call them all names under the sun and tell them to die, that’s just absolute garbage.

    I REALLY don’t care if you disagree with my posts, but actually try and bother to have an opinion on the SUBJECT, not slag off at me because you disagree. Besides, it’s my blog not yours and I’m entitled to say whatever the hell I want on MY blog! I’ve even had to delete peoples replies because of their language! Bloody hell!

    • Wow that’s an angry reaction.

      I agree, it is garbage when people are abusive and it’s your blog and you can say what you want on it. I’m soon going to be in a similar situation because I’m working on launching a blog where there will be a LOT of deeply controversial articles published, and a lot of what I’ll say is going to upset certain people. But, the only reason why people get abusive over something you’ve said is because you touched a raw nerve, and it got to them on some level. That’s a good thing. It doesn’t mean you have to accept abuse, nor do you need to react to it angrily either. Just realise that every time someone is abusive towards you, it’s coming from their own unhappiness, etc. I reckon the only response that calls for is compassion and the ability to remain detached.

      • Who’s being angry? I merely stated what’s happened at my blog over the last three years. And the point to be made is, regardless of your own opinion, there’s no need to slag someone off at THEIR blog for having THEIR opinion. THAT is wrong!

        • I think it’s always better if we can keep calm about it. The one that pushes my buttons is when people comment after some detailed post I’ve done about a technique for earning more from writing, and say: “I don’t believe you. I think you’re lying. You can’t really earn X per article…it’s only $15 now, that’s all there is.” Just makes me orbit. It’s like the prisoners whose camp has been liberated and the doors stand open, but they keep insisting that nothing has changed and they are still trapped there.

          My policy on my blog is everyone’s free to disagree as long as it’s respectful. I try to respond and provide more facts, but the fact is someone will always think you’re full of it. I think I find that the hardest part — you’re on there being authentic, sharing really intimate details of your life (in my case, very often my financial life) in order to help other people, and then you get “You’re a poser.”

          I actually love to get criticism — I think of it as ‘suggestions’, which I often use for future post ideas. But the thing where they stop with the hand and say what you’re saying can’t possibly be true…makes me nuts. Dealt with one troll recently like that on a post about how I earned 6 figures freelancing last year. She started out simply skeptical, but then got very abusive, and I had to delete most of her comments. Just made me ill.

          But friends told me to feel flattered that I’m big enough now to attract haters ;-) Guess it’s all in how you look at it.

          We definitely need a thick skin to be bloggers. You surely do get all types in those comments.

  • Excellent advice. I always need some time to come around to criticism but I always do. However, I know a lot of people that could really use this guide!

    • I always say “Thank you, I appreciate your feedback.”

      • Dhanapal

        nice comments

  • Criticism hurts. A lot. But with the right attitude it can be a great blessing for bloggers. For one, you get to know how your readers think and if you are into product development, it is perfect feedback. On the other hand, criticism can help a blogger find her (or his) voice – and opinion. Thanks for this post Darren.

  • Some food for thought in this article, Darren. Criticism has never really bothered me much, since a lot of the time those strong emotions are based on a reader’s subjective viewpoint. When the trolls or flamers come around, I usually just hit the ‘delete’ button on their comments and drive forward. The critical “tough love” kind of developmental feedback, however, is wholeheartedly embraced once I’ve put my big kid pants on.

  • Hi Darren,

    You handled an important topic so well. Excellent.

    Receiving criticism is a good thing. It means you are growing, sprinting out of your comfort zone, and as your presence expands you face people with opinions much different than your own opinion.

    Criticism is a different point of view. That’s it. The pain, anger, embarrassment and negative emotions arise if you take criticism personally. Remember that someone’s opinion of you has nothing to do with you, it is just their perception of you.

    How do you handle the sting? A toughie when new to getting criticism. All sorts of emotions ran through my mind, from anger, to frustration to rage…but after a few moments of these first few barbs, I settled down a bit. I then could look at the words as they were: opinions. Different perspectives or viewpoints.

    Meditation really helps. As I sit quietly my awareness expands, and I am able to watch my feelings arise and subside around criticisms and all types of situations which tend to be emotionally-charged. You can begin to see emotions and let them go instead of acting on them.

    In truth, most criticisms – yes, even the words which appeared most negative – contained some light of truth in them. Otherwise, the words wouldn’t have bothered me. I agreed with the criticisms on some level, and it pissed me off. As I detached from the emotions surrounding the opinions I received tremendously valuable insights.

    Case in point: I posted an ad on my blog which felt a little hype-ey, and when someone criticized me for it I felt super angry. I got really PO’ed. So after calming down, I realized that I was not 100% clear and comfortable posting the ad. It didn’t vibe with my values. I removed it, and began to attract more people in alignment with my values. If I wrote the guy who made the comment off as a jerk who knew nothing, and was simply a troll, I never would have re-aligned with my core values, what was most important to me, and I would have struggled and strived instead of attracting like-minded, high energy folks.

    Thanks for sharing your insight Darren.

    Ryan

    • Hi Ryan,
      I think I related to your comment the most. I’m new to “opening” up my blog to random people I’m trying to “connect” with because we have a common passion for writing. But in my effort to advertise my blog and expand my readership, I was putting myself out there, essentially inviting random people to criticize me. I guess I didn’t think about that enough. And I got my first taste of criticism from a total stranger. *shaking head*

      It’s tough to accept. Really tough. I keep trying to convince myself I have thicker skin than I really do. But maybe that will come with time.

      Thanks for sharing how you’ve processed this, because it does help me understand/realize that it’s okay to feel what I feel and now I have tools/direction on how to handle it appropriately.

      Cheers,
      Anna

  • I will make most use of this guide. I am a bit of newbie blogger and get hurt when someone gives negative feedback. Even I take it politely with positive response I find it difficult to concentrate on writing. Usually I takes a rest for an hour to get mind fresh.

  • I take every critique as a chance to flex my communication muscle. I love this post, because it’s so on point. When I receive a critique – I take a step back, I might lick a wound or two, but then I ask if the person has a point, even a small one. If I don’t understand their critique, I express an genuine interest in understanding where they’re coming from. I’m hear to learn and to improve and my followers are the ones who are going to help propel me to success and when someone has feedback, I try to listen and learn.

    I’ve managed to turn critics into fans, because I was willing to hear them out. We don’t have to agree, but everyone wants to be heard.

  • I simply take criticism as a different in opinion or something I didn’t know. More often than not a polite reply is enough to put things to bed and move on.

  • So far I’ve been lucky on my website building site, and have some genuine commenting. Blog reading everyday, I’ve read some pretty nasty and negative comments, one can only shake their head at. I believe I was here the other day and read one. You make a very valid point (well you made several) about basically turning a negative into a positive, “Killing with kindness or nothing at all”. Great stuff Darren. I sent you an email.

  • “… 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 …” As new blogger, this happened in my blogging experiences. This post is so real in daily problem for bloggers.

    How I am handle with the criticism in my blog? Just go with it … Usually I will thank them for the critics, answering politely, and take the good points.

  • Definitely agree with making use of criticism. How else can we get better at our craft?

    Through blogging, I’ve also developed a thick skin. As long as criticisms are constructive, I’m all ears.

    Thanks for the helpful post.

  • I like this post. It basically states we need to take responsibility for our emotions and stop feeding into others. I recently was rejected by a major prospectus that I was convinced would want my rights. I learned some very important lessons from that. Thanks for this post and all of your work here.

  • Great post, agree with all the points. I remember how much I worried at the beginning of my career, when somebody left a negative response to my article. But with time, I understood that criticism is indeed better than no comments at all.

  • This is a great post! However, I was just wondering about something that a lot of bloggers can’t seem to agree on… If you get negative feedback from a troll, do you think that the comment could/should be deleted, or should one approve the comment and then reply on it?

  • I haven’t been criticized before, perhaps due to the fact that my blog hasn’t grown to attract a large amount of readers. But this article is definitely useful for my career as a blogger. Thanks Darren.

  • I started a blog and it is not even two weeks. Recently I posted an article and everyone loved and shared it. But some of them started to dig my background. Some called me hypocrite though most of the people really appreciated my work. But whenever I get a mail to be moderated or a notification I pray it not to be a negative. This morning I received a completely negative criticism. It depressed me and I was like closing down my blog. I wasn’t trying to sell anything and I was just finding a place for my ideas over my Blog and had nothing to lose.
    After reading this post I have decided to send a note like this ‘Thanks for spending your precious time in discussing about my post’ to every critic.

    Thanks Darren for the timely post

    • Don’t shut down your blog! Then they will win! It is probably jealousy & Jealousy does terrible things to people! Have a rant to your partner and call them every name under the sun (in your head) and just ignore it, you can after all remove the comments

  • Thanks Darren,

    I’ll keep this in my back pocket as my site continues to grow.

    Right now, I’d be happy to receive critical comments; it would mean that I’m actually getting comments…

  • Frank

    Don’t you think men and women deal with criticism in different ways? I have to keep reminding my wife that it’s not the end of the world when someone disagrees with her opinions online… and I have to explain to her that other people will fight her battle for her if she leaves the negative comments up… her readers will quickly come to her defense… which in itself generates more exposure for her blog as people tweet about it etc. Criticism can be a good PR thing!

  • Frank

    I like nothing more than seeing a humble blogger who doesn’t try to defend their “lack of expertise” in a certain area and make excuses for it. In other words, the way a blogger deals with negative criticism shows what they’re made of, and will keep me coming back, because they don’t assume to know everything. That’s something I can live with.

  • HI Darren, Your minister background comes out in this post. One of my best friends screamed at me and my blog last Nov. and I still haven’t recovered. (We were at the Mall to celebrate her birthday and it was ugly ugly.) I know you said to take the emotion out, but that has paralyzed me for the last several months and I literally haven’t been able to write a thing.

    “You have everything and your blog just talks about how your son has a sucky life.” she kept screaming at me. I have spent months reflecting on this and trying to see things from her point of view. This certainly was not my intention of starting a blog.

    As the government has cut back services to people with disabilities (especially adults) and pits one family against another for the meager resources, her comments have truth.

    But, does that mean I should only write about my blessings and ignore the bad things that happen. I had thought my posts were teaching, problem solving and talking about issues no one else was talking about.

    My niche doesn’t even exist. I only have a hundred or so subscribers and the easiest thing would be to quit. Thanks for your thoughts today.

  • I don’t appreciate your tone, Darren, and wish you would lay off the negativity with me. I’m doing my best and have had it with your constant harping that I don’t know how to handle criticism. It’s FREAKING ME OUT, okay. Enough with the personal attacks on my over-sensitivity to correction.

  • For a school project, I have to ask a well developed question about blogging. Not only that, but I have my own blog. However, the problem is not dealing with criticism, I don’t have any comments at all! How can I get people to comment on my blog? Please respond asap!

    • Luke Flores

      One way to receive more comments is to ask intriguing questions within your posts. Everyone has an opinion on just about everything, so if you pose good questions they can’t resist giving you their two cents. You can also ask people to leave their thoughts on your posts. Most people love being heard and doing it on a blog is a non-threatening way to achieve that.

      • Thank you! I already had heard about the asking them to comment, but the ask an intriguing question is new. Thanks again, Luke Flores!

  • Thanks for this article. As I mentioned elsewhere, I’ll soon be in a position where I’ll need to deal with criticism and debate because of what I’ll be blogging about. Everything I’ll say on the new blog will go against popular belief and social conditioning, so that alone will upset certain people. So I’m glad I’m not the only one in that boat.

  • So glad you made this post! Funnily enough, I just commented on another PB post the other day in regards to this sort of thing (it’s like the blogging gods answered my prayers :D).

    As a person who has recently received a lot of backlash for voicing my opinions I think the 3 key things are to a) support your opinions, it’s not always a case of ‘I am wrong you are right’ and it more of a case of ‘you think I’m wrong but at least I’m using evidence to back up my claims, you’re just using profanity’, b) like you said Darren, embrace the criticism, people are more likely to be vocal when they disagree with you than they are if they agree because if you’re on ‘their side’, you will have already said everything they could have possibly wanted to say and if you get comments, you must be doing something right. And c) judging from a lot of the backlash/negative comments I got and from what I’ve seen on other sites, negative commentators almost feel *hurt* in some respects that you don’t agree with them or that your site isn’t the way they want it so it’s important to show them that while yes, their opinion may be a steaming pile of crap, but regardless, you still love them all the same!

  • Great post! At the beginning of my blogging and podcasting career, I was bombarded with criticism and bad reviews. I was devastated at first, but after thinking about it for a while, I was able to make necessary changes and I stepped up my game tremendously.
    Not every type of criticism is a blessing, especially if it is filled with condescending words, but I believe that we can learn something from every critique, whether good or bad. Sometimes we have to set our ego aside and consider if they may have a point.

  • Sometimes I had it too, but I just listen to the critism because I asked the person what he thought of my blog. It is hard to listen if he also had negative things to say, but I had to put it around en make it something positive, and I could change my things. Or just simply think about it!
    But Really good tekst! Thanks!

  • This is something I need to work on, moving forward. Sometimes I can become defensive. The “sting” of it can be unsettling, and I have a tendency to shoot back a response. The response is not “overly” defensive but usually is somewhat defensive in tone. The best thing for me to do is to step back, move away, process it, and keep it moving. And when I do respond to it, to respond a little better.

    Thanks, Darren.

  • Well, i think all forms of criticism are good…the problem is how some people go about it….you can always criticise without using bad words….lets learn to correct others without hurting them…

  • Just want to say to all you newer bloggers out there: criticism is normal. Especially negative attacks. Please don’t take them personally. And try not to stay stuck in them too long. I’ve dealt with negative people before, and the best thing you can do for them is to give up. So don’t give up. Use that negative energy to propel you forward into something positive. Good luck to you!

  • I agree that sometimes it’s just better to accept the criticism in a positive manner and learn from it of possible. It won’t always be constructive and sometimes it might be downright rude, however the way you deal with it reflects upon you. When you respond in a respectful manner it shows that you are the smarter person who should be looked up to.

  • Criticism is the greatest thing I can receive. Not only does it mean that I am garnering attention from more than just my circle of 5 internet friends, but it gives me an opportunity to either learn and become a better writer or demonstrate some expertise by correcting the misconception of my critic.

    Often times I’ll put a subject into a related internet forum so that I can benefit from the multiple viewpoints of the community.

  • Archan Mehta

    It’s important to be able to de-personalize the issue. Daily meditation can go a long way in helping to control your emotions. Go swimming, work out in the gym, go outside for a casual stroll in the park.

    That’s how I handle my critics and I have had my fair share of these worthies.

    Dialogue is another way. Probe. Ask questions. Why is there negative feedback of your work? What are you doing wrong? How can you improve? Are you repeating mistakes instead of learning from mistakes?

    Sometimes, the problem is not you, but what you are doing. The Japanese have an ace up their sleeves. They do not play the blame game. Instead, they identify the problem and try to find a solution. So, there is no need to blame the individual. No need for the individual to take it personally. Action speaks louder than words, so focus on the behaviour instead of creating no-win situations.

    Instead, create win-win partnerships. Be proactive. Ask your critics to contribute a guest post. Bring your critics on board. Invite them for lunch or cocktails or just a spot of tea. Maybe you can learn from the critics. They may even have your best interests at heart. Maybe your critics are “legit” and not your enemies. Maybe your critics are showing you how you can improve your game. Take the high road.
    Make sure you are on the moral high ground. You do not have to stoop down to a level that is not worthy of you. You can rise above it all and walk your talk. Be proactive instead of reactive and win the game.

    Cheers.

  • Great article! I am in the process of starting a blog for our hotel, and the reason some people in the management was against the blogging idea was die to negative criticism. I think personally both positive and negative is good, and if we deal with negative ones appropriately we can improve and offer a better service in the end. I know that the attitude and approach you take is important! Darren, thanks for these tips on how to manage criticism better!

    Arjun

  • Great blog post! I agree that it’s good to consider criticisms as this a great way to improve more your blog. Instead of letting you put down, why not take criticisms as a challenge. This is a good motivation for you to improve more your blogging skills. And when you respond to them in a good manner, it only shows that you do care about their comments and you are willing to listen to their suggestions.

  • This is exactly what I meant when I wrote to you about the comment I got- However that person was a troll. And just wanted to be hateful. But I think when people speak against you or your blog, or in my case my blog..it just shows that you are making a difference and affecting people in a positive way.

  • Darren Pro,
    You are not just a pro-blogger but a pro-adviser, pro-counselor,Not to waste a lot of time writing, i love what you put up here, its actually the best way to be on top of every thing in life, not only in blogging,it just occurred to me while reading your article, but i never thought about this in blogging, never thought is applicable, but i think i learnt a great lesson ,once more its is very informative thanks for sharing.

  • Agreed. Feedback can be a gift, if you know how to apply it.

  • Critics actually helps accelerate discussion & help readers to view both the kinds of the topic.

  • Hi Darren.
    I always try to politely make a positive out of a negative but recently I had a scathing attack on both me personally and my blog. I use statcounter and was able to track the commenter down (to some degree).
    To my surprise, the guy was at my blog as a result of my posting my url to DMOZ. He was actually a DMOZ editor.
    I decided to answer him in a post. So I took a snapshot of my stats for proof, wrote a post and hit the social networks with a post about what had happened.
    The end result was massive interest, massive traffic and a few months later my blog appeared in DMOZ.
    The moral of this story, negative comments can be very positive.
    I don’t know if you allow links in your comments so please delete if inapropriate but here’s the full story http://web-design-sussex-seo.co.uk/dmoz-nasty-birthday-to-me/

  • This is a great post. Criticism usually enrages me and I end up becoming very defensive and aggressive. This causes lost readership. I think I will keep the tips mentioned in this post in mind!

  • The best way to deal with criticism is to use a gun like facebook victim father did :)))

  • Great tips dude! Those who criticized merely envy you because they know they will never have the power you have and they are just jealous of other people’s success.

  • My skin is not thick.

  • I love your blog, I love it. It is best to follow daily. Thank you for all that we aporias! A greeting! ^ ^

  • I am a new blogger & This will very helpful to me.This is also helpful to our Indian Govt. who always victim of criticism and they planning to banned site like google and Facebook