Negative comments can be at least as helpful to our writing and blogging as encouraging ones, if we approach them the right way.
In an ideal world, every post you publish on your blog would be received with immediate, authentic admiration. The comments would flood in: “So well written!” “Best thing I’ve read all year!” “Wait, is this David Sedaris’ secret blog?”
Not sure how to get feedback to begin with? Our weekly Community Pool posts are designed as a forum to seek out others’ advice, and you’ll always have a supportive cohort of bloggers to turn to in our Blogging U. courses. You might also consider giving a blogging event a try.
In the real world, the stuff we put out there is read by people with different temperaments and tastes, who might each react to the same words in a startlingly different manner. And some of them might not be 100% sure that what you wrote is great, well stated, or even factually correct — and they might tell you that, too.
Ultimately, receiving constructive criticism is essential for our growth as writers and bloggers (or photographers, illustrators, poets…). But when first reading a less-than-enthusiastic comment, we might get upset and defensive. What should we do in such cases? Here are a few ideas to think about.
Lower your shields
The very fact that someone reacts to a piece you published — even if the reaction is mostly negative — is a sign of success. You moved someone to jump off the proverbial couch and engage with you. Isn’t that what blogging is all about (at least sometimes, at least for some)?
It’s best to embrace the possibility that comments might fall into a range of opinions, especially if you’ve tackled a controversial or loaded topic. In some cases, the range might skew heavily positive; in others, critical comments might stand out. This diversity of opinion is a core element of having your work in the public eye.
One of the great things about the blogging community is how supportive the vast majority of people are. Which means that, more often than not, even criticism is phrased in positive, respectful, and encouraging language.
Sometimes, though, you might feel the tone is definitely negative. In those cases, you’ll rarely regret giving others the benefit of the doubt — perhaps the reader was having a terrible day. Maybe they write in a language that isn’t their native tongue and their comments sound more aggressive than they’d intended. Maybe they’re just very passionate people, but not being in the same room with them, all you get is the edge in their written voice.
In other words, it’s best to assume that most people who comment on your writing respect your work and the fact you shared it with them.
Start a conversation
While the tips in this post from our archives are geared toward people leaving comments on others’ posts, they’re just as useful for people responding to comments.
If you think a comment might be unfairly critical or you’re not sure what the dissent is based on, one of the best ways to defuse a potentially thorny situation (and gain helpful insight along the way) is to engage the other in conversation.
As long as you refrain from being overly defensive and show that you genuinely care about your readers’ opinions, asking questions and sharing a more nuanced point of view — one that takes the criticism into account — is a great way of moving the discussion forward.
Weed out distracting comments
At times, you might encounter negative comments that are simply impossible to deal with fairly, as they’re clearly only there to derail the conversation or push the visitor’s point of view, which might not even be relevant to the topic at hand.
That’s where you should feel free to exercise your power to trash comments. Overusing (or abusing) this power will stifle conversation on your site, so you want to use it sparely. That said, keeping a troll around makes no sense, either.
Make your preferences known
Keeping a tighter leash on comments might produce less interaction than you’d normally generate. That’s a trade-off you should consider as you tailor a policy that suits you and your blog.
Finally, it’s crucial to remember that when it comes to receiving criticism, no two bloggers are identical. It’s completely within your rights as a blog owner and host to define the basic parameters of the discussion for people who pay your site a visit. This can take the form of official discussion guidelines (if you need inspiration, here are ours!), a disclaimer somewhere prominent on your homepage, or a warning at the top of particularly sensitive posts.
If you want full control of the tenor of conversation on your blog, you can also tweak your discussion settings accordingly, or even publish some posts only to a specific audience by changing their level of visibility.
Your house, your rules.
How do you address critical feedback? Do you have a commenting policy in place? Share your take with us in the comments.