Haters gonna hate: 7 ways to deal with criticism

Haters gonna hate: 7 ways to deal with criticism

Learn how to handle the haters in a way that fits your personal needs, the community norms, and the specifics of the situation.

Haters gonna hate: 7 ways to deal with criticism
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It's an unfortunate reality of sharing your work: Some people jump in to provide unwanted and unconstructive criticism. As a wise philosopher (OK, it was Taylor Swift) once put it, "Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate."

In healthy communities, constructive feedback (even if it's critical) will vastly outnumber the hate. Yet even in those cases, the "nonconstructive" feedback is often louder and easily gets more attention. Therefore, knowing how to "shake it off, shake it off" (to again draw from Ms. Swift's song) is important.

Haters are an inevitable part of sharing your work.

In the remainder of this article, we describe strategies that have worked for us. These strategies are not meant to be considered hard and fast rules. You need to handle the haters in a way that fits your personal needs, the community norms, and the specifics of the situation.

Is it me?

Perhaps starting off with this point is offensive, but if you find that you're constantly surrounded by jerks, then you are facing three distinct possible scenarios:

  • The world is full of jerks.
  • You think that the world is full of jerks.
  • You're the jerk.

Give yourself enough distance to consider the situation objectively.

After you come across a comment that seems loaded with "hate-itude," stop. Take a breath. Take a walk. Give yourself enough distance to consider the situation objectively. Put off a response for an hour and see if you still feel the same way. The world really does have plenty of jerks, so pausing and making sure you're not one of them never hurts.

Give the benefit of the doubt

Often what seems to be distilled "hater-ade" is more charitably described as inarticulate, hamfisted awkwardness. Technical communities in particular often view blunt and incisive criticism as the pinnacle of feedback. But it can hurt, and that can be compounded when the apparent hater doesn't have the same native language you do.

Assuming that people have good intentions is often to a discussion's benefit. Chances are they just have poor execution. Ask for clarification. Consider the most positive interpretation of what you think they've said (or written) and restate it back to them to see if that's what they really meant.

Consider the most positive interpretation of what you think they've said (or written) and restate it back to them to see if that's what they really meant.

Giving the benefit of the doubt falls squarely in the "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me" category. Understand that you are never obligated to give someone the benefit of the doubt, but doing so is a good way to reshape the interaction in a way that will lead to better engagement in the future. Consider whether your communication style and speaker's are different. Maybe you can find common ground where you're both communicating in a way that how you say something also tells the listener how you meant it to be heard.

But if someone keeps pouring on the hater-ade, we think they've lost the privilege of any consideration. And that's when it's time to invoke the jerk-handling routine (more on that below).

Thanks for reading

Have you ever written a blog post or released a new version of your software only to have someone come along and tell you everything they disliked about it?

You might lead off your reply with, "Thanks for reading."

The "thanks for reading" approach recognizes your audience as a passionate, albeit an ill-mannered, one.

"Thanks for reading (watching/downloading my software/etc)" is shorthand for "I appreciate that you took the time to partake in this work that I shared, even if you were kind of a jerk about it." We like this approach because it disarms the critic and gives you the opportunity to make the case for your work. By softening the interaction, I've noticed the next comment is often much more productive. It instead becomes constructive criticism.

This also plays a bit into the "benefit of the doubt" mindset. What you've created has obviously struck a chord with this one person and provoked a level of passion. Harsh or not, they were moved to make the effort to fire off a response. In a world of such a low signal-to-noise ratio where obscurity is a far more likely outcome than infamy, the "thanks for reading" approach recognizes your audience as a passionate, albeit an ill-mannered, one.

Address the disease, not the symptom

Communication isn't easy. This is especially true when dealing with complex topics, and even more so when the bulk of that communication is in text, which is devoid of the subtle hints of vocal cues and body language. Even the best communicators (in any medium) may not have the experience or training to articulate clearly why a thing isn't working for them. This can quickly lead to frustration. Frustrated people lash out; they make suggestions that don't make sense, or they simply attack blindly. They yield to hate because all other tools have failed them.

If you manage to peer through their fog of vitriol, you can often find a nugget of useful feedback.

If you can stomach it, pay attention. If you manage to peer through their fog of vitriol, you can often find a nugget of useful feedback—that thing that they don't have the means of articulating. You do have the experience, the training, and the skills to recognize the "why" behind that frustration. And, if you're willing, you have the tools to address it. The haters never even have to know that they inspired your change.

Remember thou art mortal

Especially if Impostor Syndrome is your jam, criticism (both constructive and nonconstructive) is quickly internalized. When you pour yourself into a creative work, interpreting a simple difference in taste as a personal failing is all too easy. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Remember that when you put work out into the world—writing, visual art, music, code—it no longer belongs to you, even under the most restrictive of licenses. It's certainly no longer a part of you. The work belongs to its audience. That audience's feelings and interpretations of the work will ebb and flow over time as the audience itself changes. The most adored works of our time have languished and been discounted thanks to audience hatred, prejudice, or (arguably worse) indifference at other moments in history.

Someone who makes a comment that equates your work with your worth should be subject to your jerk-handling routine.

The point is that you're not your work. It's one thing you made at one time. You will make more. Even if your work truly is garbage (and who hasn't produced some truly bad work at some point?), you're not garbage. Someone who makes a comment that equates your work with your worth should be subject to your jerk-handling routine.

The jerk-handling routine

When people are being haters, they're not helping you or anyone else, they're just being jerks. It's time to get them out of the way. Formal communities should have a Code of Conduct that addresses how jerks are removed from interactions. For informal communities (e.g., social media networks or your personal blog), you don't necessarily need to write down a Code of Conduct. The important part is to know how you want to handle jerks and follow through. Some people reflexively block jerks, while others prefer to ignore them silently. It's your space, you do what works for you.

The important part is to know how you want to handle jerks and follow through.

One thing we want to note is that harassment and threats of violence are a step beyond simply being a jerk. Reporting such incidents to the appropriate authorities is always an acceptable part of any response.

Keep on keeping on

Haters are an inevitable part of sharing your work. You can mitigate them, but they'll still pop up from time to time. They shouldn't keep you from continuing to share your code, art, writing, etc.

Seek out good communities where you feel safe sharing. Just because you choose to share in some venues doesn't mean you're under an obligation to share in every venue.

We're very proud to be a part of the Opensource.com community, which has proven itself to be an excellent community for people of all backgrounds. As Community Moderators, we work hard with the rest of the team to keep it that way.

How do you shake it off? Let us know in the comments.

About the author

Jason van Gumster - Jason van Gumster mostly makes stuff up. He writes, animates, and occasionally teaches, all using open source tools. He's run a small, independent animation studio, wrote Blender For Dummies and GIMP Bible, and continues to blurt out his experiences during a [sometimes] weekly podcast, the Open Source Creative Podcast. Adventures (and lies) at @monsterjavaguns.

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