How can you deal with trolls and criticism?
Here’s a tough fact to swallow: the more successful you are, the more hate you’ll get.
Don’t worry – you’ll get love too – but it’s the haters, the trolls, the critics and the green-eyed jealousy monsters who can be the toughest to handle. They’re the ones who often have the power to ruin your day and sometimes even keep you awake at night, when you’ll wonder if you really are a terrible person, a bad entrepreneur, or incompetent, or unqualified, or any of the other things you might be accused of, either online or to your face.
Critics are, unfortunately, unavoidable, particularly if you are blessed with a certain degree of success. They will have a range of reasons for taking aim and firing at you, and at times there will be something you can learn from their complaints, and at other times you will just have to suck it up, soldier, and find a way of coping.
Coping is what I want to try and help you with today, when I will look at how I pursued self-improvement and learned to deal with my critics, and hopefully how you can too.
Accepting criticism – my self-development journey
When I first began Progressive Property, I experienced criticism and I’ll be honest: it broke me emotionally. Each complaint felt like a blow to my stomach, and felt unfair, and I had no idea why people were saying these horrible things about me. It crushed my self-esteem, and it made me start to question if I was going to be able to handle this journey I had begun.
After devastation came anger, which was not particularly helpful because it wasn’t targeted or focused. I just wanted to ignore every criticism, as if I was being victimised.
When I’d cooled down, I went the opposite route: I decided that there had to be elements of truth in everything I heard, so I started to take on these people’s feedback – all of it. I believe in trying to live a life of balance, so I wanted to absorb every piece of advice and request they sent my way, even the stuff that seemed to conflict with the other comments. In the end, I realised that if you try to be all things to everyone, you end up being nothing to anyone.
One conclusion I drew from the trolls and the haters was this: the more you grow, the more criticism you’ll get, and you just have to learn how to deal with it.
In many ways, if people are criticising your company, it’s a sign of your progress, the size of your brand, and the likelihood that you’re doing something right.
Don’t respond when you’re emotional
A natural response for many of us when facing a critic or a troll is to feel devastation or righteous fury. You might want to smash your computer to pieces. You might want to challenge your critic to an old-fashioned bout of fisticuffs. You might just want to burn something to the ground and spit on the ashes.
We both know that you probably aren’t going to do any of these things. What you’re more likely to do can almost be as damaging, though, at least to your reputation: you’ll respond, either verbally or online, in an emotional manner.
If the complainer has a genuine grievance with something that you or your company has done, responding with anger or indignance is not going to solve their problem or convince this person that they were wrong to think badly of your brand.
If the critic is someone who has nothing directly to do with you but is offering what they see as being valuable feedback, replying angrily might make you appear immature or weak, and is unlikely to help you to grow as a person or an entrepreneur.
And if they are a troll, you are handing them what they want on a silver platter and inviting them to tuck in. Haters often want nothing more than a reaction and to know that they have affected your day negatively. Don’t give them the satisfaction.
Are they right?
Criticism is hard to take, but if you believe in self-awareness, self-mastery and self-development as I do, then you’ll recognise that, even when it hurts to hear, there is substance to complaints. It’s your duty to work out whether your critics are motivated by a desire for recompense, a need for “one-upmanship”, a drive to offer you some worthwhile advice, or just because they are bitter and angry and looking to cause you grief.
When you find yourself facing a critic, there are a few questions that it benefits you to ask. To help you reflect, try to decide the following:
- Is the complaint valid, and if so, is there something you can learn from the comments?
- Is this person complaining and hoping for a response and a solution, or do they seem like they are just looking to quarrel?
- Is the criticism delivered in a reasonable, respectful manner, or is the aim to offend or insult?
- If you have a negative reaction, are you reacting to the message, or the person delivering it? (i.e. if a peer you respected gave you the same advice, would you react in a more positive manner?)
- Is the criticism focusing on facts about your business, or purely on opinion?
- Is there an opportunity here to turn this person into a friend, a contact, a customer or a client?
These are questions that can help you to define whether there is substance to the criticism, whether you may want to apply any of their suggestions to your business, and whether it will benefit you to reply.
Take the middle ground
Recognise that if a criticism is being said to your face (online or offline), that’s better than it being behind your back. It means that this person is less likely to be bitching about you in private, and it gives you a chance to weigh up the comments more objectively.
If the critic seems reasonable, you may want to take the opportunity to reply. However, you should avoid publicly defending yourself, because quite often that’s just what a troll wants, and when you reply, they will always drag the encounter out and demand the last word.
It is often best to assume good intentions, until something in their manner or their comments proves otherwise. Constructive criticism is an essential part of growing and self-development, and can help you to see issues in your work or your company that you may never have noticed without someone pointing them out. However, pandering to another person’s desires and demands too much is a guaranteed way to drag you from your vision, so stay firm on your personal path, amending where it’s helpful rather than altering course.
This middle ground, where you remain open-minded to your faults but refuse to grovel at the feet of your critics, is the best method to take. Seeking balance is always a good method of developing as both a person and an entrepreneur.
One thing I have said before is that if you don’t have any critics or trolls, you probably aren’t doing well enough yet. In many ways, you can see these haters as evidence that you are doing something right, because quite often when people attack a person in a vicious, unprovoked manner, it’s because they feel threatened. They recognise that you are succeeding in something and want to try and bring you down, or take a dent out of your success.
It’s your responsibility to stop this happening, but in a way that proves what an empowered, rational, reasonable entrepreneur you are rather than making you appear petty or bitter.
Remember that others will beat you down in both your private and professional life, so don’t do it to yourself. Remember that no one is better or worse than you, and you have a unique set of values, experiences and upbringing. While the media may deify certain people – gurus, wealthy tycoons, sports stars and rock musicians – no one else has experienced what you have, and I sincerely believe that we are all unique geniuses.
Self-development requires self-awareness, the ability to deal with hecklers and trolls, and ultimately letting unhelpful words bounce off you. What matters is being who you are and doing what you do well, making a difference and contributing to the world, as dictated by your own personal values.
Don’t waste the miniscule amount of time you have on this planet by worrying about things you can’t control and about others’ opinions unless they are of benefit to you.
Learn about how to get more done in less time with my self-improvement and entrepreneurial success book, Life Leverage.
Read more about self-improvement in this blog here.
Thanks for reading, and see you in the comments or on Facebook!