I recently let some negative feedback ruin my day.
I’d left a link to one of my posts on an online forum where bloggers give each other feedback. I had done this many times before and the feedback had generally been quite positive. It was a boost to my self-esteem as a blogger.
Then one day I got some feedback that wasn’t so good. The blogger had three critiques:
- He said I was seeking feedback on my posts far too often in the online forum.
- I was recycling my own posts too much, using the WordPress “reblog” feature on days when I wasn’t publishing a new post. The blogger said this made it feel like I was “out of ideas to write,” which made my blog “less interesting to browse through.”
- Finally, the blogger said the “ideas and structure” in my posts were “rather not so strong.” he suggested I read more and “imitate some good writings.”
Up until then I felt pretty proud of what I was building with My Instruction Manual. My audience was growing and people were responding well, not just in the comments but in a couple of emails where readers reached out to tell me that the life lessons in my blog were helping them to get through difficult times.
But this feedback made me doubt myself. The impostor syndrome set in and I started to question whether I was fooling myself thinking I could launch a successful self improvement / personal development blog. I even started to question my own writing abilities. Then my reaction shifted 100%. I started to wonder who the hell this blogger thought he was. I visited his blog and made myself feel better by identifying all the things that were wrong with it.
As I thought about my two contrasting reactions, I realized that most of us don’t deal with criticism very well. Negative feedback brings out our worst insecurities. As a result, we tend to deal with it in one of two extremes. Either we deny it all or we accept it all.
When we deny it all, we choose to believe that the only way to protect ourselves from criticism is to argue. We believe we must convince the person giving us this feedback that they are wrong. If we can do so, then we are able to erase the critique. When I get negative feedback from my wife, my first instinct is to deny and argue. There are obvious problems with this. First, it makes people giving the critique feel like they are not being heard. Second, it eliminates any chance of us being able to actually learn or grow from the constructive criticism.
When we accept it all, we do so because the criticism has punctured our self-esteem so badly that we feel it must be true. But by doing so, we’re giving up our ability to independently assess our own abilities. As a result, we may change ourselves based on a single person’s assessments of our strengths and weaknesses. The greatest danger with accepting it can make us feel like frauds and want to give up.
But there is a third way, which is to assess the feedback.
When we assess the feedback, we accept that there is usually some truth within each piece of negative feedback. Then we assess the feedback to identify the truth. Finally, we embrace the truth as a platform for personal growth and development.
Here’s how the three ways of dealing with criticism look with regard to the feedback that my posts are “rather not so strong.” If I deny it all, I believe there’s no truth whatsoever in the statement. If I accept it all, I believe the feedback is perfectly true and I’m a fraud.
But when I assess the feedback, I start by accepting there’s a kernel of truth there. Now deep down, I know that while I might not be great at a lot of things, writing is truly one of my strengths. I went to journalism school. I spent 10 years working as a journalist. I’ve written and edited books. My writing was seen as a great asset to my teams at a PR agency and in the corporate world. So I don’t accept that my posts are bad. I also think the suggestion that I should try to copy other writers’ work is bad advice.
But I’m able to recognize that there may be some truths hidden within this feedback.
First, the obvious truth is that this one blogger doesn’t like my blog. And that’s okay. I’m not trying to be all things to all people. As they say in one of my favorite Broadway musicals, Title of Show, “I’d rather be nine people’s favorite thing than a hundred people’s ninth favorite thing.”
Second, with August being such a busy month, I didn’t write as many posts as I had in June and July, and I didn’t spend quite as much time on each post. So if I’m truthful with myself, I acknowledge that I can do better.
The blogger’s other two points — that I reblog too much and seek feedback too often on other forums — probably also include elements of truth. I’d love feedback on either of these points.
I’ve included a screen grab here so you can see the original feedback and how I responded:
The blogger responded to me once again saying that I shouldn’t believe the positive feedback I received because people are probably just trying to make me feel better.
Two questions I’m hoping you can answer in the comments.
First, when it comes to negative feedback are you more of a denier or an accepter? Or have you found a healthy middle ground? Second, as a reader of My Instruction Manual, what are your thoughts on re-blogging old posts on days when I’m not writing something new? Am I doing it too much?