How To Deal With Negative Feedback

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:

  1. He said I was seeking feedback on my posts far too often in the online forum.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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?


  1. Have yet to receive any blog wise but I’m sure it’s coming. If there’s something we can all admit, it’s that for every nice, “real” person on the Internet, there are at least 3-4 trolls.

    I enjoy your content and think “imitating other writer voices” defeats the whole purpose of blogging. Tell YOUR story how YOU want to. The rest of it is just noise.

    Artists are definitely sensitive to negativity in all its forms. I think your third approach is probably the way to go. Use what you can from the feedback and discard the rest. Of course we all need improvement! That’s living! And writing.

  2. Hi, Keith,

    I think you did a great job of analyzing the options for responding to criticism: 1) reject it entirely, 2) accept it all and allow it to determine your worth, and 3) use it as a tool for self-reflection—what might be true and what do I know to be false, what can I learn from this, how can I improve…? Your response to the criticizer was gracious. Their continued need to further twist the knife was not.
    I don’t feel qualified to make a blanket statement on reblogging old posts. My personal feeling about blogging is that I don’t especially want the blogs I follow to post every day, or even multiple times each week. I want them to post when they have something of value to say, something that they believe will be of interest to readers. If it’s a reblog from a fairly recent posting, I just delete. If it’s a reblog from a longer time ago, perhaps before I was following, I will often read it. Trust your gut.

  3. Hi Keith – TBH, your initial reaction that that feedback was totally normal, considering how it was written.

    I think a big piece of being able to accept feedback is knowing how to *give* feedback. I had a professor in my undergrad spend a lot of time with the class on how to give and receive feedback…. I honestly wish everyone had the opportunity to actually “learn” the skill. In a nutshell there are two key musts. 1. Always start with something positive, otherwise you immediately put a wall up and 2. Never use red pen (I guess the online equivalent would be all caps :).

    I wish I could say I always approached feedback as an opportunity, but that would be unrealistic. If it hits a nerve, it hits a nerve. But. like you did, I can be objective over time. I think that’s something we all have to practice.

    …..and reposts don’t bother me at all!

  4. I have to say, that as a blogger (or just a semi-decent human) I never write a positive comment in “order to make (someone) feel better” and do not know of any other bloggers who do that. When i like something I say so. When something touches me deeply, I say so, and when I dislike something I still try to find something good to say along with any “negative’ feedback.
    I happen to like most of what you write. I am not a big fan of reblogging unless it is someone else’s work that i want to share with my own followers, and then I ask permission before doing so. your reactions/responses to the negative one were outstanding. his/her second neg response was just someone being a tool. Ignore that part of possible.

    • Thanks for the note Suze! I agree with you. When I pay compliments, I mean it. When I’m not a big fan of a blog — either because the subject matter bores me or because it’s not well written — I don’t comment at all. Thanks for visiting and commenting here!

  5. had to chuckle when you explicitly asked for feedback about asking for too much feedback! Wonderful. 🙂

    Second, I can relate (as can most sane human beings) to reacting with denial and anger to unexpected negative feedback. Been there. Done that. But, like you, I’ve become a lot more self-aware in the past few years. What I used to take personally, I now handle as a new piece of information I get to examine and inspect rather than swallow wholesale. I take this same approach to positive feedback, too. Not everything someone tells me is amazing is, in fact, objectively amazing. This is where having an internal barrometer helps. Am I better at doing what I love for having practiced it the day before? If the answer is yes, then WOOHOO. If not, why not?

    I am of the opinion that feedback is a gift. (As cliche as it is to say) But not all gifts are worth unwrapping. Some just need to go back to the store. Maybe an exchange? A different size? You get the picture.

    Elizabeth Gilbert and Glennon Doyle Melton had a conversation on Gilbert’s Magic Lesson’s podcast where they talked about their responsibilities as creators. One of the many take-aways from the discussion, at least for me, was that our job as creators and content-makers isn’t to know everything, but to allow ourselves to be seen learning as we go. “Here’s what I know TODAY.” Instead of “Here’s everything I know that can’t ever be changed and is set in stone until the end of time.”

    And that’s what you’ve done here. Well done. Or maybe I should say, keep well doing.

    • Angela!

      First let me say how much I appreciate the time you take to leave thoughtful, well-crafted comments.You always add some valuable insight. I like what you say about positive feedback being something we need to examine just as closely. But I wonder if our brains are actually wired to be more skeptical of positive feedback?

      And I can totally relate to the idea of creators showing that we learn as we go. I will have to give that podcast a listen.

      • Thanks for the reply, Keith!
        I think you ask a good question. I don’t know that I have an answer. That one I want to think about more. I do believe I’m more likely to dismiss feedback of either the positive or the negative variety if it’s too far outside of my own experience of myself.
        Maybe there’s fodder there for another post on positive feedback and how we give and take it? I wrote a post on the power of giving compliments called, “Why Dragons are Terrible Role Models for Humans.” But I think you raise an important point that came up in a lot of the comments on that post. Many people have trouble accepting compliments. Is it cultural or somehow intrinsic in human nature? I don’t know. . . but now I kinda want to!

  6. Well done. 👍👍👍
    You have taken it too seriously, and converted my small comment into a post. I do receive these comments from everywhere, and I just improve myself silently, not making a hoo-haa about it. Assuming this comment is going to be moderated, so if you want to delete my comment or whatever, great efforts from you, I really went overboard with the imitating part. But, nonetheless, I was surprised when you mentioned that you have 10 years into journalism. Apart from that, it is great to impact someone from a way or another, changing for the better. Hope to see more from you. Have hope, write on! If you want to send any feedback for my blog, or to create any kind of post for my blog. Please do so, I am hungry to improve myself. Thank you. 😊😊😊

  7. Well Said! As for your questions – I am one that internalizes negative feedback. Analyzing it to see if I should take their feedback or not. There are times when they do not know the path I am taking or if my path has come to a crossroads and need to take another direction. For the 2nd – that is for you to decide.

  8. The blogger’s feedback was direct and unvarnished and that is a different “voice” than you and your blog, so, no it’s not for him/her/other. It wasn’t constructive or supportive and perhaps that was what bothered you. When this stuff comes my way I feel really bruised for a while (sometimes a very long while). Then, I ask myself why it hit a nerve and sift through the truth and try to ignore what isn’t useful and focus on what I can and may want to change. It’s hard work. It takes alligator skin dealing with my own stuff as well as the stuff of others because, let’s face it, feedback comes in a cloud of other people’s stuff.

    As for your blog, Keith, I say it may be your goal to post every day, but if you are busy or uninspired, post as regularly as you can. No need to repost. Also, I’m not sure we need to know how the blog is doing. That’s great for you to know, but not sure we need to know it until you hit milestones or something surprising happens. Continue with your storytelling and soliciting other stories and ideas. Try to find topics maybe that haven’t been covered or find a different twist on things. A lot of blogs out there are snarky and dismissive to be “disruptive”. Yours is not and that’s refreshing. Write what you know and leave your guts on the screen. This is about connecting with others. And you are, so keep it up. And I’m not just saying that to make you feel good. 🙂

  9. You’ve raised some good points about human nature. We all have the tendency to initially be hurt, to self-criticize, then lash out, criticize the critic. Often this includes seeking support or sympathy from bystanders, parents, siblings, cousins, best friends, co-workers, etc.

    Sometimes we can get vindictive. Like the old saying, “I don’t get mad; I get even.” As you said, go find fault with the other guy — who will undoubtedly have some.

    Wise is the person who can turn a critique around and take a good honest look to see if it really is true, in whole or in part. It may hurt at first but can help us grow. I’ve found that it helps me, if I’m ready to criticize someone else for a glaring fault, to take a look and see if I might have that same one myself.

    It happened to me once that a co-worker made me quite angry because she argued with simple instructions I gave her. I thought, “Why can’t you just do what you’re told?!” Then I got a flashback of myself doing exactly the same thing. My anger toward her evaporated and I could be thankful that her resistance helped me to see something in myself.

    This is a good article. Life is full of learning experiences, if we open our minds to them. 🙂

    • I think that would take some extraordinary patience to pause and do some self-exploration when you really feel like criticizing someone. A great example of taking an opportunity to grow!

  10. Look at the timing! Last night, I had a (almost) mental breakdown, because I had been denying criticism from my family for so long. I have finally accepted it because the only want the good for me. See, that is why I like your blog.
    Answering your question, I do feel the same way as that commenter regarding the reblogging, but I wouldn’t quite phrase it that way.
    You are one of my favourite bloggers. When I discovered your blog back in June, one of the main things that I liked about your blog is that you posted regularly and had something different to say each day. I am not in the position to say you don’t post regularly now, because I myself post once a fortnight, but being a reader I can say I miss the old you. I understand that you are working on other important stuff, but getting a notification that you have posted gets my hopes high, which come crashing down when I see it’s another reblog (of a post I have read like 4 times).
    What I suggest is that on days you can’t or simply don’t want to write, you can reblog other blogs’ posts which you find interesting. That way, other bloggers who are good, get recognised, and we the readers, don’t get bored. It’s a win win situation really.
    Also, ignore the “imitate others” part. You are amazing the way you are.

    • Your comments always make me smile Tanushka. It’s so nice to know that someone on the other side of the world enjoys what I’m doing here! That makes up for any negative criticism! Based on your comment and some others, I’ve decided to reblog much more sparingly. Thanks for being part of my blog family!

  11. Hi Keith,
    An interesting topic for sure. I’m glad you posted in the community pool, otherwise I might never have discovered your blog (I’m now a new follower.)

    I feel like you with the feedback. It is a real shot to the ego when someone takes the time to tell you all the reasons they don’t like your writing style. I guess that I try to focus more on the fact that writing is fun for me and is a release that just makes me feel better all-around. I write with the hope that somebody else might find it even mildly amusing but mostly I write because it has turned into somewhat of a hobby for me.

    I get the sense that you write for enjoyment, too. If that’s the case, keep it up and don’t let someone change your style. I find it important to continue to be me in the face of negative criticism. When I start writing for someone else’s enjoyment, I lose that enjoyment for myself and the whole purpose of me continuing with is lost.

    To answer your questions: 1) I don’t respond well to harsh, negative criticism. I can see pretty easily when someone makes a gentle and helpful suggestion as to what they’d like to see more or less of vs. the mean-spirited stuff that serves no purpose and 2) I’m not familiar with re-blogging but if the concept is to call attention to an old blog post you did, I see nothing wrong with that. It’s difficult to come up with fresh material daily or even weekly but re-blogging let’s people know you’re active AND not everyone may have read what you’re re-blogging the first time. Seems like that’s good justification in itself.

    Keep up the great work. Looking forward to spending some time reading your blog!

  12. Interesting post! I don’t know if I’d have handled the criticism so well!
    Since you asked for our opinions on the matter, here’s mine: if you are posting multiple times in the Pool in one week, I think that is frowned upon a little. The Pool gets busy, and fast, and if you’re there every week posting more than one comment (I don’t mean replies, I mean your original comment) then it could seem spammy and, for lack of a better word, desperate. That being said, I swim through the Pool every week, and I haven’t noticed you doing that or being overly annoying.
    In regards to reblogs, I personally don’t love them. There are other ways to bring attention to old posts without reblogging them. If you like doing that and find success, then that’s fine, who’s to stop you, but I’m not sure if readers love it. You don’t have to provide content every day, but if you like to do so, then that’s your business.

    • Thanks for this feedback! I’ve usually left 3-4 posts per week in the community pool, but I’m going to cut that back now. I’ll aim for just one per week unless something comes up I’m desperate for feedback on. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in the comments, I’m also going to cut back on reblogs and maybe eliminate them altogether.

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