Sooner or later it is bound to happen, and you will ask yourself:
“Was it something I said, something I wrote, or something I did?”
It doesn’t really matter.
The truth is: you probably annoyed someone in some way, and they’re letting you have it.
Online. For the whole world to see.
You wonder: “What do I do? Do I ignore it? Should I retaliate?”
A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD
Having an online presence is a blessing and a curse. It’s an opportunity to reach thousands of people instantaneously. Sane people, and insane people. Ideally, you don’t want your fans, readers, and potential clients to passively consume your content. You want people to react to what you’re posting. You want the “likes,” the retweets, the comments, and the thumbs up, don’t you? I know I do, and I’ll tell you why.
I purposely push the envelope from time to time, and stir the pot. I welcome and encourage a good discussion, because I want my readers to be moved in some way or another. I want them to be aware of the Emperors in our industry that aren’t wearing any clothes. I want people to think twice before they send their money to some demo mill, or to a casting website selling virtual cattle calls.
I know this doesn’t make me popular in some of the more established circles, but popularity has never been my goal. If anything, I want to empower my readers to become more professional, more business-savvy, and better equipped to run a profitable and ethical freelance business.
THE WIND AND THE TREES
In the Netherlands we have a saying that goes like this: “Hoge bomen vangen veel wind.” It means “Tall trees catch much wind.” In other words: if you choose to put yourself out there, things might get rough. You’re kind of asking for it. Let me give you an example.
You’re probably aware that I wrote a book called Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs. It has an average of four and a half stars on Amazon. Not long ago I noticed that I got my first (and only) one-star review from Jack Dennis, a colleague. I can use Jack’s name, because he chose to identify himself at the end of his review which I appreciate. Here’s what he wrote:
“Don’t believe what you read. Paul is not well respected in the vo biz. In fact, quite the opposite. He has successfully offended many major league elite vo actors and their representatives. He is everything you shouldn’t be to become a major league talent. He embarrasses me and shames the art of voice over. He’s an author, coach and does vo. The basic formula for success is to learn from the best in their respective fields. You can learn nothing from Paul. He is pompous, arrogant and brings nothing positive to the table. He will only take your money and discourage you from going after your dream. This sounds like a nasty review it is. I’m tired of the vo wolves preying on those with a dream. If you want to have any success in the vo world, avoid people like this.”
While I didn’t enjoy reading these words, I do want to thank Jack for inspiring me to write about handling feedback. If you feel hurt, or angry about some of the negative comments you may have received, here’s what I’d like you to keep in mind:
1. Don’t take it personally.
I strongly feel that most comments reveal much more about the commentators, than about what or whom they’re trying to critique. In three words: Perception is projection.
I also think that ALL of us are looking at the world through dirty lenses. Our vision is colored by past experience, and by our values, our beliefs, and our expectations.
Some people feel big when they can make other people feel small. Some are jealous, narrow-minded, vindictive, or simply ill-informed. Some people thrive on creating conflict. Some fall for fake news. Some have been hurt, wronged, or disappointed, and they’ve become cynical, sad, or bitter bullies.
All of this resonates in the background, and influences how people perceive the world and respond to it. Sometimes it takes one small trigger that provides the spark that lights the fire. Some days, you might be that trigger, and you get some dirt thrown your way.
Mind you: I’m not justifying bad behavior. I’m just trying to put it into context.
One more thing.
A person is much more than his or her behavior. The behavior is just the tip of the iceberg. Just as we don’t like to be judged based on one thing we said or wrote, it would be unfair to judge the commentators based on a single, not so positive comment.
2. Substantive feedback is valuable.
It is really hard for most people to have an accurate sense of how they come across, in person, and especially in writing. As you’re reading these words, you can’t hear my tone of voice, and you don’t see my body language. Yet, most communication experts agree that tonality, facial expressions, and posture are way more revealing and honest than the words we speak. That’s why the written word is easily misunderstood (and why some of us use emoticons).
Quality feedback (emphasis on “quality”) is a precious gift. It’s a mirror that teaches us something about how we’re being perceived. It can be a confrontation with a part of ourselves we’re uncomfortable with. That’s why some people become very defensive. They take critique of one small aspect of how they come across, as an attack on their entire personality.
When someone has a few harsh words for me, this what I want to know:
– Is the feedback based on actual observations and facts, or on assumptions and interpretations?
– Is it specific, or does it consist of a bunch of generalizations?
– What is it, that the commentator is missing in order to truly understand me, and what do I need to do better, in order to be understood?
You see, I cannot change my critics. If they’re intent on cutting me down because they have some chip on their shoulder I know nothing about, I cannot help them. Frankly, it’s their problem. Not mine. I can only change myself. I can choose to ignore feedback that has no basis in reality, and to learn from feedback that’s fair. This brings me to the next point:
3. Ask yourself: Is the critique consistent and recurring?
Now, here’s where I start paying attention. If the same substantive feedback is coming back again and again, that’s like an alarm bell. Action needs to be taken. Jack’s one-star review may be annoying, but it doesn’t really worry me. Apparently, he has some bone to pick with me and/or the world, but his review is overshadowed by many positive comments from other readers…. which leads me to my next suggestion.
When fellow-bloggers and writers ask me if and how they should respond to people like Jack, I tell them:
Let others come to your defense.”
When others advocate on your behalf, it has a much stronger impact than when you speak up yourself. And if you’ve taken the time to develop a considerable following, people will jump in. I guarantee it.
4. How you respond to feedback, teaches you about you.
Just as most comments reveal a lot about the commentators, how you respond to those comments tells you something about yourself. If you’re a people-pleaser, you probably want to be liked, and you avoid conflict. A critical comment may feel like a slap in the face.
A few words of advice:
– It is impossible to please everyone, all the time. It’s also unhealthy!
– You are not perfect, and you don’t have to be, to be liked and loved.
– Receiving feedback is different from being rejected. It’s information, and you decide what to do with it.
– Always consider the source of the feedback. You can’t reason with unreasonable people.
– You cannot control the comments, but you can control your response.
5. Comment carefully.
If you happen to have a sharp online tongue, bite it!
If you have something to say, don’t hide behind an anonymous online identity. Own your ideas. Be accountable. Only cowards operate in the dark.
Be aware of the incredible power of words. Using strong language to provoke a response is not a game. It is not funny. It is beyond rude, and it is dangerous. Cyberbullying has led to suicide.
Never respond when you’re angry or under the influence. Realize that what you say about others, says a lot about yourself. Do you want to be known as a considerate and kind person, or as a jackass?
Online comments have a long shelf life. Something you wrote in anger, might come up in searches years after it was written, and may even cost you a job.
If you have very strong feelings about a person’s opinion or actions, why not send him or her a private message? Be polite. Be thoughtful. Be reasonable.
As Patrick Stokes once said: “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are only entitled to what you can argue for.”
DEALING WITH NEGATIVITY
If you’re a fan of British television, you may have heard of Nadiya Hussain. She’s the most recent winner of The Great British Bake-Off on the BBC. Nadiya walked into the show wearing a headscarf, and became one of the most well-known Muslims in the UK. Now she stars in her own television series, she wrote a number of books, and she even baked a birthday cake for the Queen.
In a recent interview, Nadiya was asked:
Many Muslim women have to endure anti-Islamic slurs in the street – has that ever happened to you?
Here’s what she said:
“From the moment I’ve worn my headscarf, that almost comes with the territory. I don’t feed negativity with negativity. I receive it with a smile and I say: “You know what? I don’t need to balance the scales.” For me that’s really important because my foremost and most important job is my children. I live in a lovely country. I don’t want my kids to grow up with a chip on their shoulder. Those negative people and those negative comments are the minority, and I don’t let that dictate how I live my life.”
I agree with Nadiya. Never sink to the level of the person you’re responding to. Don’t become what you despise. It’s a sure way to fan the flames, and it will stain your soul.
Language can be used to help, heal, or hurt.
The choice is yours.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS Be sweet. Please retweet!
PPS Have you ever received nasty comments? How did you handle it?
About the author
is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs."