Handling Critical Comments and Attacks from Blog Readers

In my recent podcast on the characteristics of successful blogging, I touched on the topic a couple of times of putting yourself out there for public comment and critique.

I suggested that having a bit of a thick skin might be useful because from time to time you’ll definitely get ‘feedback’ that may not be as a encouraging, helpful or constructive as it could be – and which at times may even enter into the territory of it being aggressive, attacking and personal.


While I’ve only experienced this a handful of times in over 10 years the times that it has happened to me have rocked my world a little.

So how should a blogger deal with criticism of their blogging? That’s what this episode is all about!

In Today’s Episode How to Handle Critical and Attacking Comments from Blog Readers

Note: This episode is now live in iTunes here.

  • Embrace it – When you’re critiqued there is potential for growth from the encounter. Feedback of any type is a sign that someone has noticed what you’re doing and reading your blog.
  • Consider the critique – When I get a negative comment, I try to step back and do a bit of analysis of what’s going on. Here are a few questions I consider:
    • Is the comment within the boundaries of what I think is acceptable for my blog?
    • Is there some truth in it? Are there some improvements you can make?
    • Is there a misunderstanding you can clarify?
    • Is this something I’ve heard before? Is there a common theme to the critiques?
    • Is this from someone who I have interacted before? Were they having a bad day or is this ongoing?
    • Was there anything positive? Is there common ground you can focus on?
    • Is this a troll or someone seeking attention?
    • Is the feedback anonymous? Is it a trouble maker or someone you know?
    • What is the intent of the critique?
    • Are there any signals that can give you context for the commenters situation? Sometimes looking at the links to their blog/social, previous comments or things said in the comment can give you an understanding of the agenda of the person.

A lot of this is about trying to get to the heart of what’s going on with the comment. For me a lot of it comes down to trying to understand the intent of the other person and trying to respond to that rather than just the words that they’ve chosen to use.

Sometimes behind the words that come across as a personal attack is something that you can take on board to learn from/improve what you do or the opportunity to help your reader and make a positive connection.

Of course it’s not always easy to do this.

You may need to give yourself a little time/distance (although you may need to act faster if things are blowing up). Step away from the computer!

You might also find it helpful to involve another person. Ask a friend, family member, another blogger for their take. Sometimes someone who is outside the situation can reveal something about the feedback that you’re not seeing.

Respond – With analysis and feedback, you are in a better position to respond. I have taken a few options to respond.

  • Responding to trolls
    • Delete it – I rarely delete negative comments but on occasion if a comment is left by someone who is obviously trolling and doing so in an offensive way I’ll delete it.
    • Ignore it – If the feedback comes on social media and its troll like I usually ignore it.
    • Overly polite kindness – Sometimes I take a kill them with kindness type response. I don’t tend to do this so much these days – it is a little passive aggressive but it can be effective at times.

If there’s even some hint that the person is coming from a non-troll place I will respond with these options:

  • Clarification – Maybe they misunderstood your point, clarify blog post
  • Take responsibility – If you’ve made an error, take responsibility
  • Debate – A robust discussion can benefit both sides
  • Agree to Disagree – If the comment is in a very closed manner, debate won’t work, be constructive but agree to disagree
  • Private responses – If they are intent on a non-constructive heated exchange, try to end it and offer a private conversation
    • Many times these invitations go ignored which to me signals some of the intent of the other person.
    • The times that the person does followup, I’m always willing to engage as they may have some genuine issue that they are looking for resolution around.
    • In most cases, we’re able to come to some resolution but there have been a couple of occasions where we still come to an impasse and you need to disengage.
  • Respond with Genuine Care –  Sometimes, you can tell from the comment/feedback that the other person is operating from pain/hurt. Sometimes emailing them simply to say that you noticed their comment and wanted to see if everything was ok can be the right response.
    • If I’ve had other positive interactions with the person in the past and their comment seems out of character
    • If their blog/social/comment shows that they’re going through something
    • Many times when I do this I find that the person is going through something personally. Many times, they apologise and the fact that you responded with genuine kindness/care strengthens the relationship.
  • Let the Community Respond – Sometimes the community notices and responds.

Lastly – there are many times where the person’s negativity says more about the other person and their situation than it says anything about you or what you’ve written.

“Thank you for your ‘gift’ – but I think you can keep it for yourself.”

Further Resources on How to Handle Critical and Attacking Comments from Blog Readers

Full Transcript Expand to view full transcript Compress to smaller transcript view
Darren: Hi there and welcome to Episode 125 of the ProBlogger Podcast. My name’s Darren Rowse. Today, I want to talk a little bit about criticism. In my recent podcast, on the characteristics of successful bloggers, back in episode 120 I think it was, I touched on the topic a couple of times of putting yourself out there for public comments and critique. I suggested that having a thick skin might be a useful characteristic to have if you want to be a blogger, because you’re going to get feedback and not all of the feedback is going to be helpful or constructive as it should be perhaps, or as it could be.

At times, it may even enter into the territory of it becoming aggressive, attacking, and personal. Now, whilst I’ve only experienced that kind of hateful feedback a number of times, just a handful of times in the last 13 or so years, there have been times where it’s happened to me. If I’m honest, it’s completely rocked my world. It’s a type of thing that almost has the potential to take over everything that you think about. 

Today, I want to explore how to deal with criticism, and really the criticism that we’re talking about today can be constructive and it can be right through to that really hateful personal stuff as well. That’s what today’s episode is all about. 

This particular episode is sponsored by the ProBlogger event, which is happening on the 9th and 10th of September on the Gold Coast here in Australia. I would love to meet you at this event. You get to spend the whole two days with me and several hundred Aussie and international bloggers on the Gold Coast. If you want to find out more about this event and how you can save $100 if you buy your ticket before the 1st of July, head over to probloggerevents.com and you can find out all the information there. We’ve got the full schedule and all of our speakers listed there. We’ve got some great speakers this year. If you want to get today’s show notes, you can go to problogger.com/podcast/125.

If you’ve been blogging even just for a little while now, chances are you’ve had a comment left on your blog or an email from a reader that doesn’t agree with what you’ve written. I regularly see this happen on my own blogs, hardly a week goes by, probably not even a day goes by, where there’s not some kind of disagreement in the comments or someone taking issue with something that I’ve said, or pointing out an error that I’ve made. Most of the time, the comments are written and it’s fairly neutral or sometimes even helpful way, even when they’re disagreeing. There might be comments where people who disagree with what was written and may have a different opinion or experience from me.

Maybe they find an error or something that I’ve omitted to say that perhaps I should have. Maybe even comments from people who misunderstand the intent of the post or don’t read it all the way through. In most cases, the exchange is at least relatively positive. The exchanging of ideas that sometimes leads to them, or me, or both of us, coming to a new understanding. That’s actually one of the things that attracted me to blogging in the first place. These robust discussions, these sharing of ideas and experiences.

Without people pulling me up, adding their voice, sharing their perspectives, my blog would be quite one dimensional. I don’t know that I would’ve grown anywhere near as much as I could’ve. Constructive feedback is fantastic for a blog. It helps you as a blogger to grow and it helps you to serve your audience better too, I think at least. There are days where that feedback from readers is not always a positive or constructive thing. It has the potential to hurt both you and the other person who’s leaving that comment, your blog itself, and even your other readers. This sort of negative feedback from people, this criticism, particularly when it gets into the personal realm, has the potential to really drag you down but also drag the culture of your blog down as well

Sometimes the comments left, or the emails sent, or the conversations that they had about you on social media, or other blogs, or forums even, can become really aggressive, and it can become attacking, and it can become personal. On those occasions, it’s very easy to allow the whole thing to drag you down and for you to be taken into a pretty dark and negative space. In some cases, I’ve even seen bloggers abandon their blogs and online pursuits as a result of the sort of negative feedback and criticism. 

How can a blogger avoid this? How can we manage this criticism that is likely to come, that will come if we stick at this long enough? How can we avoid being dragged down and maybe how can we even turn that criticism around and use it in a positive way?

Before I get into some tips on this particular issue, I want to cite a couple of things. Firstly, each circumstance is going to be completely different and you do need to handle criticism differently in each situation as well. I think back over the last 13 years, there’s been times where I’ve handled it really well and then taking the same approach in another circumstance and it hasn’t worked at all. There’s been times where I’ve handled it really poorly and then on the same thing with someone else, and it’s worked really well. There’s no one easy answer for these and you do need to kind of tiptoe through it a little bit and try and get a sense for the circumstance and how you might be able to navigate through it.

That’s one thing I want to say, and the other thing I want to say is that what I’m about to share is going to sound very reasonable. It’s going to sound very considered. It’s going to sound very logical and clean, but when you’re in the middle of it, it is much messier. I want to acknowledge that right up front because I know some of you at the moment are probably going through this. Maybe some of you’ve searched iTunes and found this podcast on how to deal with negative comments and you are right in the thick of it. I want to acknowledge the pain that you’re in and the confusion you’re in, because I’ve been through it so many times. I’m thinking back to a couple instances where this kind of stuff would consume me. I want to encourage you to take a breath and to remember that you’re okay, and that you’ve got real friends and real family that do like you and that say nice things to you.

You’ve probably got readers as well, most of your readers probably say good things about you. Part of what I’m going to share today is about trying to realign away from that one person who’s negative towards you at the moment and refocus some of your energy on other things. I kind of just want to say right out that I feel your pain, if this is something you’re going through at the moment.

Okay, there’s three main things that I want to say today. In these three things, there’s a lot of information. We may pause along the way and take a breath. That’s okay, you might want to pause the podcast along the way and take a breath, too. The first thing that I want to say and this is—I really hesitate to even say this one because it sounds, to those of you who are in the midst of this, a little bit cliché, but I need to say it. Firstly, embrace it. This isn’t easy, but as I’ve said before when you’re critiqued, there’s  potential in that critique, there’s potential in that feedback for growth. Believe me, there really is. 

I look back at some of those really hard times where I’ve been attacked, not just from one person, but groups of people. Whilst it was horrible and dragged me down, I look back on those times and they were times I actually grew and where my blogs grew as well, and where I learned so much. Be open to the critiques that come your way. 

One of the things I’ll say to you, if you’re in the midst of this now, feedback of any kind is a sign that someone has noticed your blog–and that’s a good thing-and that they’ve noticed what you’re doing, and they’re reading what you’re doing, and they’re considering what you’ve written on some level. Even if they don’t agree with it, you’ve got people who are reading your blog and are engaged enough to want to give you some feedback.

Whilst sometimes the feedback we get we’d rather not hear, and we’d rather those type of people who don’t agree with us to just go away somewhere else, at least you’ve got people reading your blog, at least people are engaging with you. Ultimately as bloggers, this is what we want. We want people to read our stuff. We want them to engage with us. Maybe I’m looking for the positives in a really negative situation and I am told that I am the eternal optimist. I’m regularly told not to look for so many positives, but I can’t help it and really looking for those positives maybe can help you to take the first steps into the situation and find some resolution from it. Do whatever you can to embrace that criticism, but the next step is really important as well.

The second thing I want to say is consider the critique. Consider the critique. Don’t just write it off as soon as it comes. There will be some critiques that you get that I will tell you to write off and I’ll get onto that in a moment. There are some that you want to ignore. There will be some that you probably want to delete. Before you do, take a moment to consider the critique. When I get a negative comment, I try, and I don’t always succeed at this, but I try to step back from the feelings that come when I read that comment or that email, and I try to do some analysis on what’s going on behind it. There are a few things that I guess I try and consider as I look at that negative comment. Some of these are hard to do, and some of them will come automatically, and some of them you need to bring some thought too. 

The first thing that I would ask myself is, “Is this comment within the boundaries of what I think is acceptable for my blog?” It’s good to have thought this through before the negative comment comes in. I think a lot of blogs could do well to have a comments policy, whether that’s a public one or whether that’s just something you used to filter your comments on. Things like the language that you think is acceptable. Some of you will be totally fine with any language at all being used. On my blogs, I try and keep them sort of family friendly. I certainly don’t allow racist commentary, discriminatory commentary, hatred kind of comments on my blog.

That’s the first thing I’m looking for when I’m looking at a comment, is this within the boundaries of what I think is acceptable? Am I happy for this comment to be on my blog? The reality is it’s your blog, it’s your home and people need to behave in a way that is acceptable to you. That’s the first thing that I’m considering as I look at it. If it doesn’t meet what I feel is acceptable, I will probably delete it or I’ll at least edit it and make a note that it’s been edited to get rid of maybe a word that I think is appropriate on my blog. That’s the first thing I’m considering.

The next ones are looking more at the comment itself and looking at the feedback itself. The next thing I would ask is, “Is there some truth in what has been said?” Maybe the person is pointing out that you’ve made an error. Maybe they haven’t pointed it out in a very good way but is there some truth in what they’ve said? Have you made an error? Was there a weakness in your post? Is there something that you could improve in your post? Is there something you could correct in your post? Maybe that would actually end the situation if you just correct the error. 

Another question I ask is, “Is there some kind of misunderstanding behind their comment?” Sometimes, what I find is that people don’t read our posts. Some people don’t listen to the end of the podcast. Some people don’t go beyond the title of the post that we write. Some people don’t have the capability, perhaps, of understanding the full intent of what we’re saying. Maybe there’s a cultural difference there. Maybe there is a language difference, use of language in that type of thing as well. 

Is there some kind of misunderstanding behind the comment? Again, it might not be expressed in the good way, but it’s good to understand really what is the point of what they’re trying to say and why are they saying it? Is there some sort of misunderstanding there? Could you clarify something for the person, I guess is another way of asking that question.

Another question that I try and ask myself as I’m looking at a negative piece of feedback is, “Is this something I’ve heard before?” Is this person saying something perhaps in an inappropriate way, but is the intent of what they’re saying a theme that I’ve heard before from other readers? Is there a theme in the critiques that you get? Maybe this tells you something about your readers and how they’re feeling towards you and your blog. Maybe this is a common misunderstanding that people have about you and what you’re saying. Maybe there’s a lot of people out there who feel the same way. I think it’s kind of useful to understand that.

Now, you still may not take a different approach, but if you understand that this is a common thing, you may approach this slightly differently. It might actually help you to improve your blog. I’ve seen this in some of the feedback that I’ve had if I’m honest about this particular podcast. One of the negative pieces of feedback that I get about my podcast, I’m being honest here, is that we don’t have transcripts of these podcasts. That’s something we’re working on at the moment and we hope to build into the workflow of this podcast. 

The first time I got that piece of feedback, it wasn’t put in a very nice way, I have to say. I kind of wrote it off. I didn’t look at it, but now I’ve heard from a number of people and I’ve now heard that there are good reasons why people might want a transcript. People who are hearing impaired, people who have accessibility issues in terms of being able to download the podcast. Gradually, over time, if you hear the same piece of feedback over and over again, maybe it starts to ring true. Maybe there’s something you can change from your perspective that’s going to eliminate these issues that people are having. Is this something you’ve heard before? 

Is this from someone you’ve heard from before? This, I think, is really interesting to look at. If you get a negative comment on your blog, most commenting systems in your blogs enable you to look back as to has that person commented before. You could do a search in your comments using their email address or even their name or their IP address if you have the ability to do that as well.

Sometimes, it’s useful to look back on the past comments that that person has had, if it’s an email, have they emailed you before? That can be really eliminating. You can begin to see some themes. Sometimes in the feedback that you get, you can begin to see whether this person is maybe trolling you. Is the only comments they leave really nasty, personal attacking stuff, then that will say something. Is this comment inconsistent with previous comments? Sometimes, I really have found this to be true. This sometimes has really unlocked the secret of how to respond for me.

If this is the first negative comment that a person has had and their previous comments have been really positive, then that gives you a hint that maybe the person is having a rough time, something else is going on in their life. Maybe something’s happened in the last time that they commented that you didn’t respond to in an appropriate way. You can maybe be able to find the source of their anger towards you. Have you heard from this person before? What were the previous interactions like? Were they positive, were they negative? Are they just having a bad day or is this some ongoing issue that they have with you?

Another question I ask when I’m considering the comment that comes in is was there anything positive that I can take from the comment at all? Was there any common grounds that you could focus upon? Sometimes we’re drawn in a comment that might be 200 words long, to the 3 words at the end of it, which really fire us up and then forget to acknowledge the fact that they’ve also written 197 other words, that were actually quite good. Sometimes, by refocusing on the positive in the comment, you can find some common ground with the other person and respond to that first, and then bring up the three words that confused you or made you angry and address that.

Sometimes, that is a better response to give to someone, “I think we agree on these issues, but here’s the area that maybe we need to talk more about.” Is there an attempt from the other person at reasonableness or any indication that they are up for a constructive interaction, I guess, is the other questions I’ve asked about that particular one. 

The next question I ask and this is always pretty obvious, I think, is this person a troll? Is this the first time they’ve ever commented? Is the comment all about seeking attention or getting a reaction from you. If that is what they’re after, then you need to respond in a different way. If the person has had a long history of positive comments from you and then this is the first negative one. 

I think we need to approach people differently depending upon who they are. Is this person a troll? Another question that might be related to that one is, is these piece of feedback anonymous? Sometimes, if it’s anonymous, that can give us a hint that maybe it’s a troublemaker, maybe it’s a troll, or maybe it’s a signal that you know the person, as well and maybe there’s some other kind of issues there, some personal issues going on. Is the person anonymous?

Another question, which kind of ties into some of what we’ve already talked about but it’s worth asking, what is the intent of the critique? Is the person just looking for a reaction or is there some good intent behind? Are they actually trying to help you to improve in some way? I think, really, a lot of what I’m talking about in this particular section is trying to understand where the person is coming from and what their intent is. 

The last thing I would encourage you to consider is are there any signals that can give you context for the commenter’s situation? Sometimes digging a little bit into the person, and I’m not talking about stalking them here or getting into privacy issues or anything, but sometimes looking at if they leave the link to their blog, if the link in the comment links back to their social media or you can identify their Twitter account. Sometimes any words they’ve used in the comment might give you an understanding of the agenda of the person. 

For example, maybe you can look when you look at their blog that they’re a competitor to you and they’re feeling threatened by you in some way. Maybe by looking at their Twitter account, you can say that their dog died earlier today. Maybe they’re having a bad day. Sometimes just by digging a little bit into who the person is, you can begin to see some useful information that will help you to respond in a better way as well. Sometimes, it’s about understanding the person’s actually going through some pain at the moment. Sometimes, there is some competitiveness there or some threat that they feel toward you.

I guess a lot of what I’m trying to say here is to try to get to the heart of what’s going on with the comment. For me a lot of it does come down to trying to understand the intent of the other person, trying to respond from that position, rather than just looking at the words that they’ve chosen to use. By looking at the intent, you can respond to the heart of the issue, rather than just through the words that they. As in the side, if you want some further reading on this, Jonathan Fields who I love, wrote a great guest post back on ProBlogger a few years ago now, I think it’s actually back in 2008, so it’s an old post now that you’ve probably not seen.

He actually talks about understanding the intent of blog hecklers, so I’ll link to that in today’s show notes. I think it’s well worth kind of going back and reading. He kind of identifies these different groups of people who heckle you. Sometimes the words that come across as a personal attack is something that you can actually take on board and learn from in some way. Maybe there’s something in this analysis that will help you to do that. Now of course, it’s not easy to do and I would encourage you as you’re looking at certain negative things that come in, to give yourself in someone a little bit of time, a little bit of distance to process it.

Sometimes, you just need to step away from the computer and not respond straight away. There’s been a few times where I have not taken that advice and it ended badly. Taking a step back, taking a breath, maybe having a chat with a friend. Involving someone else in it can really be helpful thing to get a different perspective on. Someone outside the situation taking a look at it might reveal something that you’re overlooking in the comment. I’ve had that happen to me a few times where I realized that I was just reading the comment wrong. If I have responded out of what I was seeing, it would have been the wrong thing to do, but someone else coming in says, “Hey, actually I think they’re right in this area and maybe you could improve in this way or you could respond in that way.”

Involves someone else, take a little space from it, but don’t take too long as well because sometimes these things have a habit of blowing up and this is the danger, I guess. Particularly, if it’s a comment on your blog and your other readers start chiming in on it, sometimes you do need to act fairly quickly, even if it’s just to say, “I’m out at the moment, I’ve seen your comment. I’m going to respond a little bit later. Thanks for the feedback. I need to respond but I want to do in a considered way,” and actually put a little bit of a time frame around that. Sometimes that can help as well. Showing that you’ve responded and that you’ll respond more can be a useful thing as well. That’s number two, is to consider the critique, a tough one.

I know, you may want to pause right now just to rant at me who hasn’t really understood your pain, but sometimes, you just got to step back from that comment. Look at that for what it is, try and understand where the other person is coming from, work out if the issue is theirs or whether it’s yours. That will give you a much better understanding of how to respond, which is the next thing I want to talk about.

The third area is respond. Hopefully with some of the analysis of the feedback that you’ve done you’re in a better position now to respond to the person. The way that you respond is going to depend a lot on the circumstances. This is where you can end up responding in very different ways to criticism. There’s definitely a few things that I’ve done over the years and I want to run through some of them. The first two or three are particularly how I respond to trolls. Let’s address the trolls in the room first. Hopefully, there’s no one listening at this stage as a troll. Trolls don’t tend to hang around too long.

The first thing that I would do if it’s a troll that I would consider doing, the first thing might be to delete it. I would say that I’ve rarely deleted negative comments on my blog, but there have been a few occasions over the years where I have. If it’s someone who is obviously trolling and they’re doing it in an offensive way, using language that I’m not happy about having on my blog, being hateful, being completely off topic, if they’re spamming and if they’re attacking another reader, particularly in a racist or discriminatory way. I will delete it. It’s my blog. It’s my home. I set the rules and if you can’t behave appropriately in my home, you can go somewhere else.

I have to say it’s rare. I’ve hardly ever done that, but there’s been a handful of times where I’ve done it. It’s usually come after giving the person a warning as well. I would usually give someone a warning and I might actually edit a comment that they’ve left and just remind them that I expect family friendly kind of interactions. Because we do have students read our blogs. That’s the first thing, you may choose to delete it.

Number two, you may choose to ignore it. If the feedback comes on social media, you can’t delete it. It’s obviously a troll. I usually ignore it. For example, if it’s on Twitter, I can see the other person’s account. Once I’ve dug a little, it’s full of similar stuff to other people and it’s pretty obvious that they’re just looking for a reaction, I rarely give them that reaction. If it happens repeatedly, I might block them, might report them. If it’s happening on my blog, I might delete them and ban them from the blog, but I’ve found the adage of not feeding the trolls to be a fairly good response.

Usually, if you ignore someone once, they move on. They understand pretty quickly that you’re not going to give them what they want and they go find it somewhere else. Really, for the trolls, that’s generally what I do sometimes with a warning and add deletion or banning as well. The other thing I occasionally do with a troll is overly polite kindness. I sometimes find that to kill them with kindness kind of response does work with some trolls as well, and sometimes actually responding with a bit of human can work as well if they’re kind of having a bit of humor troll-ish kind of behavior. Sometimes, that disarms them as well, but it’s rare that I would do that. I usually just ignore the trolls.

If there is even some hint that the person is coming from a non troll like place, if they’re on topic, if they’ve got at least something constructive to say or I can see that they’ve misunderstood something that the other responses that I want to go through now, I’m probably applying more in those sorts of situations. First one is you might need to clarify something. Sometimes the negative comment comes because the person has just not understood the post, maybe I didn’t express myself well, maybe I made a little mistake that kind of didn’t make it clear what I was saying, maybe there’s a cultural issue, or maybe the person didn’t read the whole post.

You might just want to clarify what it is that you’re on about with another comment or an email. Maybe there’s something in what you’ve written that could be confusing to other people as well. Clarification may not just help that person and take the heat out of the situation, but it might actually help others in the audience who feel the same way. 

Number two, things that you might want to respond back with is taking some kind of responsibility. If you’ve made an error, if you’ve made a mistake, if you’ve done something that’s hurt the other person, take responsibility for it. Even if they’ve expressed it in a really bad way, just apologize that they’ve taken it the wrong way, and that you did the wrong thing, and own it, move on. Fix it. Move on. Take responsibility.

There’s times where you would need to do this and there are other times where maybe the person has overstepped the mark too much to just apologize and move on. Maybe you need to apologize and point out something about the way you’ve interacted, but really, I think taking responsibility when there is some legitimacy in what they are saying towards you. I think that can take a bit of the heat out of the situation as well. It’s not always appropriate. I’m not saying you always have to just treat the customer as always being right, or treat the reader as always being right, but there are times where you just need to own the mistake that you made and move on.

The third option that sometimes I do is debate. Sometimes, if the other person seems to be up for a constructive robust discussion without getting personal, I might engage in that type of debate. Usually, this is where I’ll say, “I agree with you on this way,” find a common ground first, and then come back to them with, “Hey, you would disagree with him,” or your suggestion, or your side of the argument, your opinion,  your experience. This is I guess the ideal. This is what I’m really looking for with people. I think the sort of public debates, as long as they stay positive and constructive, you sometimes need to just sort of remind people to stay constructive.

Sometimes, these kinds of interactions go really well and that can bring a lot of life to your blog. This is where I’m trying to get a lot of my discussions to go towards. Some of the people I’ve had these sort of debates would end up being guest bloggers on my blog, or people that I become friends with, because I’ve engaged in a positive way. It’s almost about trying to train your audience to have these types of discussions as well.

What I find is sometimes you’d be having a positive debate with another person who has a very different opinion to you, but they’re being positive and respectful, and then other people begin to chime in and get personal. That’s where you need to just say to everyone, “Hey, we’re having a good discussion here. Let’s just keep it in a positive vibe,” and that’s where you can play the cop I guess. Trying to keep things within the boundaries of what you feel is acceptable. Sometimes you need to remind people that there’s young people reading or, “This is the boundaries of what I think is acceptable.” Most people respond pretty well to that. That’s what I’m trying to aim for.

Sometimes, when I feel like the debate has run its course, or maybe the other person’s comment has been expressed in a very closed off kind of manner, sometimes I just take the agree to disagree kind of approach to it. I might respond with, “Thanks for your opinion. I respect that you have a different opinion to mine.” I might point out any positive or common ground that we have, but then just close it, say, “Let’s just agree to disagree.”

A long, non-constructive personal attacking debates that are more about one upmanship tend to end badly. That can bring the culture of your blog down and sometimes by entering into that kind of non-constructive debate, it can just be a real downer for your whole blog and other people reading as well. I tend to try and close those ones down. If they’re not being closed down, I do the next thing, and that is to take the discussion private. If there’s any kind of negativity, any personal kind of attacking going on, that’s where I usually try and get things pretty quickly.

If someone won’t let go of a conversation and seems intent on a heated personal attacking non-constructive exchange, I will almost always attempt to take it private. I usually ignore this in a public way. If it’s in the comment section, I will say something like, “I’m not willing to keep going over this here in the comments, but here’s my email address. Email me. I’m more than happy to talk to you privately. I’m more than happy to jump on Skype with you and have a call with you.” I always try and put that offer out there and I try to do in a public way, so that other people can see that I’ve made the offer.

If I don’t have the email address of the person, that’s what I would do. If I’ve got the email address of the person, I might also say something like, “I’ve just sent you an email offering to have this discussion in a private way. Now, let’s take it private,” and I find in most cases, when I offer to take it private, people don’t, or that it’s resolved really quickly when I do. It takes the heat out of it. Anyone who is trying to just get a reaction and cause trouble doesn’t really want to take it private, because they’re not going to get that public reaction. The time that the person does want to take it private, there’s usually some intent on their part that they do want to get to the heart of it, and they are looking for some resolution as well.

There’s been numerous times where I’ve taken it private with people and it ended really well, but there’s still a couple of people that I’ve taken it private with that still just not ended, and that’s where you just got to agree to disagree, and disengage from it. Life is too short to spend your whole life going down that negative rabbit hole with someone. There will come a point even in private discussions where you might just have to pull away and say enough is enough.

The next thing also is not applicable to every situation, but sometimes, you just really need to respond with genuine care for the other person. Again, if you are digging around and you see that their previous comments have all been really positive and suddenly there is a negative one, or maybe you look on Twitter and say that they don’t dive, or maybe it’s just out of the character for them that they responded in this way, maybe something’s going on in their life that you just need to give them a bit of grace towards. What I do in that situation is say, “Hey, I saw your comment is a bit more negative than normal. Is everything okay? Have I done something to offend or,” and really approach it in a, “Hey, I’m just wondering what’s going on here,” and by approaching that rather than just responding with an angry comment, in most cases, the response comes back—I’ve had people come back and say, “I just got diagnosed with cancer,” or “My husband has just left me,” or “My dog did die,” or “My kids did this…” or “…did that and I responded in this way,” or “I was drunk last night. I’m really sorry.”

In most cases where I’ve gone with a, “Hey, are you okay?” It’s amazing what comes back to you. It’s amazing how often you do find that the other person was literally just having a bad day. Sometimes, that can be the appropriate first response as well. Particularly if you have any hint at all that maybe something’s going on for that particular person.

The last thing I’ll say is that sometimes it’s appropriate to just let your community respond. Sometimes, my readers notice a negative comment of another reader way before I do. Particularly from me living in Australia, this often happens when I’m asleep. There’s a negative comment and then I’ll wake up the next morning and find that my community has responded and fully dealt with the issue. Maybe they have helped clear up a miscommunication, maybe they have put the person back in their place if they’re a troll.

It’s amazing how many times the community respond to this really well. If you’ve got any kind of other readers engaging in your blog, sometimes it’s okay just to let them deal with it and maybe you just want to chime in and say, “Hey, I see this has been resolved. Thanks everyone for getting on with that,” and reward your community for responding in that way. I think it probably is appropriate that you at least acknowledge what’s going on in your absence.

The last thing I want to say on this whole issue and as I said before, this all seems very logical, and clinical, and reasonable, and it’s messy in the midst of it. The last thing I want to say is that there are many times where the other person’s negativity says more about that person and their situation than it says anything at all about what you’ve written and who you are. I wrote a post a few years ago now, this is back in 2007 of the advice that I got one day when I was talking to a Buddhist monk. I visited this particular monastery and had this chat to this guy. He was one of those calm and peaceful guys.

We got talking about blogging and he asked me about this exact topic. He’d heard that the internet was a very negative place. We got talking about it and I said, “Well, what would your advice be from your particular perspective?” He says, “When someone is angry towards you, say, ‘Thank you for your gift, but I think you can keep it for yourself.’” I love that kind of response. This is what I wrote in that blog post back in 2007.

It is easy to take the anger of other people and to wear it as a burden of your own, but it’s usually unhealthy to do so. Anger and hatred directed at you by another person is their anger, and their hatred, and not yours. Well, they may wish for you to take it upon yourself. Ultimately, it’s a gift that would be better not received. The blogosphere can unfortunately be a place of personal attack and anger. I think there’s a place for hearing the critique of others and taking it onboard in a constructive way, there’s also a time to let it go and move forward.

Ultimately, that’s kind of the approach that I would take, is that sometimes you need to analyze that criticism, see what you can take onboard from it, see what you can resolve, but ultimately life is too short. Life is too short. You’re much better to direct your energy into a positive place. Creating new content that’s going to change the bulk of your reader’s lives. It may not serve that one person, but it’s time to move on, and it’s time to move out of that negative place, and to do something positive.

Ultimately for me, the thing that gets me out of the funk, the negativity, is realizing that 99.9% of my readers are giving me positive feedback, and that I have an opportunity to make their lives better, and ultimately that is the best response to negative feedback that you can get. It’s to do something positive, to do something that makes the world a better place. That’s what helps me to sleep better at night rather than to dwell on that 0.01% of negativity that comes my way.

I would love to hear your feedback on this particular issue. It’s been a long one. There’s been a lot of stuff that I’ve kind of gone through here and there’s going to be a bit of a summary of it over in today’s show notes. It’s not a transcript. The transcripts are coming, but you can find today’s show notes at problogger.com/podcast/125 where there’s detailed notes and there’s some further reading of some of the posts that I have mentioned in this, but most importantly, I love your feedback on this.

I would love to know when you disagree with me. Please be gentle. Please be constructive, but whether you disagree, let’s have a discussion on this particular topic. Share the stories of when you’ve dealt with it well, when you haven’t dealt with it well. Check out the show notes and leave your comments over at problogger.com/podcast/125.

Thanks so much for listening and again, if you are going through this at the moment, I feel your pain, try and take a step back from it, try and embrace it, try and analyze that, try and respond to it, but most importantly come to a point where you can move on from it and do something constructive, and do something that’s going to make the world a better place. Ultimately, that’s the best thing that you can do. Thanks for listening today. Chat with you in a couple of days.

You’ve been listening to ProBlogger. If you’d like to comment on any of today’s topics or subscribe to the series, find us at problogger.com/podcast. Tweet us @ProBlogger, find us at facebook.com/ProBlogger or search ProBlogger on iTunes.

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