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Responding To Blogging Criticism

Darren Rowse
Expert Author
Published: 2005-07-14

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Thanks to Robert for linking up to ProBlogger.net while I slept last night. It's always nice to get a positive link from a larger blogger who sends an influx of new readers into your blog.

It's been an interesting week here at ProBlogger for this reason - after the exposure I had in the Aussie Press and a few link ups from bigger bloggers I've ridden the roller coaster ride of publicity. With it comes some amazing opportunities but also a few hard knocks.

I've been on the receiving end of a few critiques of my blogging style this week - some of which have been quite valid and helpful - others of which have been quite scathing and verging on personal attacks (and of course quite a few of these are anonymous as per usual).

So what is my response to an ‘unfair critique'? Firstly I'd say don't ignore it - I like to see every critique/threat/attack as an opportunity to better your blog and to win over more readers. How do you do that? Over the past couple of years I've developed the following type of process in responding to them:

1. Take a deep breath and give yourself a little space from the criticism - One of the worst things you can do when getting a critical comment or email is to respond in the moment out of the anger, fear, confusion and hurt that you might feel as a result. Go for a walk around the block, have a coffee, ring a friend or just take a few minutes to cool down before responding. At times I've even left responding until the next day when I'm thinking clearer.

2. Listen to the criticism - This is not easy and I'm still learning to do it - but recently I've decided to actually attempt to give my critics a chance to teach me something. Perhaps they haven't communicated it as subtly as they could, perhaps they've overreacted and taken it to a personal attack level - but maybe behind their rudeness and generalizations is a point - a point that can improve your blogging. A wise person once told me that behind the emotion of anger is often the feeling of fear. And behind the feeling of fear is sometimes the fact that you've heard something that cuts close to the truth. Does the critic have something to teach you?

3. Respond with grace - I learned the power of a graceful reply to a stinging comment or email a couple of years ago when my personal blog came under fire from a very unreasonable troll who started a widespread campaign to discredit my name. Instead of reacting out of anger and hurt I took the approach of thanking him every time for his comments and reacting in the most civilized and generous nature that I could. This had a number of results. Firstly it took the sting out of his attack - people don't like to attack people who don't react. Secondly it made him look very stupid and small. Thirdly my readers admired my approach incredibly. I had many comments and posts on their blogs noting how gracious I'd been. It really made an impression on them. I've also had instances where in responding in this way that the person who has attacked me has done a real turn around and has ended up apologizing for being so aggressive. One or two have become loyal readers and good friends.

4. Try dialogue - This week I saw a post written about me that made me very angry. It seemed to make some real generalizations about my approach to blogging and without asking me made some assumptions that I didn't think were fair. At first I ignored my own advice above and reacted in a pretty emotional kind of way - defending myself (in the comments of their blog) and pointing out weaknesses in the other blogger's argument. After a few comments bouncing back and forth between us I began to realize we were getting no where and decided that instead of flaming each other it might be more productive if we tried listening to each others points of view. I admitted that he was right on something and told him I'd take it on board - he then did the same thing. The dialogue actually got more productive and I actually came away from it feeling I'd learnt something from him.

5. Let it go - Sometimes you can give yourself space, you can listen to the criticism, you can respond with grace and attempt dialogue but no matter what you do the other person will not back down and continues to be totally unreasonable. These situations can be very difficult - you just get angrier and angrier - your day becomes filled with checking their blog and writing long emotional emails, comments and posts defending yourself etc. In such situations I always ask myself if the argument is actually a productive one - is it life giving to me and those who are watching on, or is it actually destructive? It's worth being aware that your regular readers can actually become quite disillusioned by such arguments. There comes a point where you just need to disengage and let it go.

This can be hard - such interactions can be like a scab over a wound that you just can't stop picking (eeeew - sorry for that image - I can't believe I used it). The way I do ‘let go' is to ban myself from the blog concerned. I have a few blogs that I refuse to look at - simply because I know they will trigger an angry and destructive reaction from me. I just don't go there.

Ok - I know some of you now think I'm a freak and are plotting ways to test if I'm really as reasonable and calm as this process looks (I can picture the hate mail already :-) !) Let me just say that sometimes I'm good at this - other times I get as caught up in the emotion of being attacked as much as anyone. Perhaps I've also been on the other side of things also and have been unreasonable to someone else. Such interactions happen to all bloggers at some point and we all do things both badly and well in such interactions. I guess as I look over the past couple of years of blogging I want to learn from situations like these and grow as a blogger. Hopefully out of such times we can grow and become a little more mature in our blogging.

So how do you respond to criticism? What advice would you give?

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About the Author:
Darren Rowse is the founder of ProBlogger.net, a blog about the many ways of adding an income stream to blogs.

Darren owns and writes a variety of blogs including Digital Photography Blog and Camera Phone Zone. He is also a co-founder of the Breaking News Blog Collective.

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