The truth is, if you spend enough time on the Internet, you’ll eventually take your turn as a punching bag. As a blogger and future author, I'm very interested in how people react to public criticism. A while back, I ran across this video of Steve Jobs during a question-and-answer session. A man asks an insulting question, and Jobs’ response was quite impressive. It's worth taking a look.
Let's break down this response see if we can come up with some generalizable tips for dealing with public criticism.
1. You don't have to respond right away. When someone criticizes you and everybody’s watching, there's some pressure to say something right back. But resist that temptation. Take some time and think things over. But should you respond at all? I can't answer that for you, but a few questions to consider.
- Is the criticism worth dignifying with a response? My levelheaded husband talks me out of a flame wars by asking that very question. If someone is raising reasonable objections, it might be worth responding. But if someone is just being snarky or immature (On the internet? No way!), it may not be worth sinking down to their level.
- Are you being criticized in a hostile environment? Generally, the more hostile the environment, the more carefully you have to consider your response. If you're a part of the traditional publishing establishment, being lambasted on an virulently indie blog, or if you’re indie author trying to defend self publishing on a pro traditional writer’s forum, it may not matter how well reasoned your responses are. If the audience is already predisposed to hating you, they may not listen, and you'll just end up getting even more frustrated.
- Think twice about responding to reviews I recently saw this blog post asking whether authors should respond to reviews. Several commentors mentioned that it was awkward when authors responded to bad reviews, even if it was in a nice way. Sometimes readers need a safe place to discuss books without feeling like the author is looking over their shoulder.
3. Maintain your composure and sense of humor. People tune out when they see angry ranting. You come across as much more reasonable and mature if you stay calm.
4. Elevate the discussion. As they say, "Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people." In the video, Steve Jobs took a thinly veiled insult and redirected the discussion to something more productive. Rather than discuss whether or not he was an idiot, he focused on the importance of looking at the big picture.
Have you ever been criticized in a public forum? How did you respond?
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