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How to Handle Negative Comments Online (Like A Pro)

  |   Business Tips, Customer Service, Online Etiquette, Reputation   |   33 Comments

How to handle negative comments online like a true pro. There are great customer service + reputation tips for creative business owners and entrepreneurs in here!

 

I know how it goes down.

 

You’re busting your (sometimes) manicured nails on your blog, staying up until 1 a.m. hustling for business, and trying to convince yourself that:

 

1. you DO have something worth saying,

2. you ARE capable, and

3. gosh darn it, people like you.

 

And then, just when you think you’ve found your groove, what happens?

 

Someone comes along to tell you just how ridiculous, incompetent, fraudulent, and ignorant you really are.

 

(Or at least that’s how negative online comments feel, yes?)

 

The experience can be horrifying.

 

And worse, it can make us want to be horrifying in return.

 

But I have a better way to deal.

 

(Because there’s only ONE thing more destructive for your biz or blog reputation than critical, complaining, and rude comments, and that’s a poor response to them.)

 

This is how to handle negative comments online, Chief Olyvia style. Ready to roll with me? Let’s go!

 

 

1. PROVE THAT YOU’RE LISTENING

 

Instead of furiously launching into your own argument, take a moment to steer the direction of your reply towards conversation — not assault. Try starting out with a remark like “I can see what you’re saying” or “I hear you.”

 

This doesn’t mean you agree or even have to PRETEND to agree, but it does set the tone for mutual respect and understanding.

 

When people realize that you’ve heard them (and cared enough to do so), they’re much better listeners themselves.

 

"Two monologues do not make a dialogue." - Jeff Daly | How To Handle Negative Comments Online via Olyvia.co

 

2. SPEAK TO YOUR EXPERIENCE

 

A common communication foible people make online (and off!) is directing their disagreement toward a person rather than the ideas they’re presenting. This is a sure path toward tasteless arrogant remarks and more livid emotions.

 

But when you share what you know, you make the conversation into one that is focused around an exchange of information and ideas — instead of one that focuses in on whether someone’s comments are valid.

 

For instance, instead of saying, “I’ve been doing this a lot longer than you!” say something like this:

 

“In my experience, muted, conservative colors are the best branding choice for accountants who work with wealthy older clients because of X, Y, and Z.”

 

Criticize ideas, not people. - Unknown | How To Handle Negative Comments Online via Olyvia.co

 

3. BE INQUISITIVE

 

When I don’t know how to respond without coming off as a sniping, snooty, or defensive jerk, you know what I do?

 

I just ask a question.

 

“What kind of function were you envisioning here?”

“Could you tell me more about the problems you’re seeing on your end?”

“What kind of things have you seen done by others that worked well for you?”

“What browser/email client/web host/login/software are you using?”

“Can you explain your perspective a bit more?”

 

A simple but genuine question has the uncanny power to calm people down + get them to behave like decent human beings again, plus it has the added benefit of…

 

A) revealing whether there’s a real problem there that you can — or should — fix, and

 

B) esteeming you in the eyes of others who see your response — and maybe even your critic — because you’ve proven to be concerned towards the people in your space.

 

Don’t find fault. Find a remedy. – Henry Ford | How To Handle Negative Comments Online via Olyvia.co

 

4. CONVEY KINDNESS

 

The biggest problem with the internet is that the vast majority of communication on it is text-based.

 

Body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, laughter…they’re all hidden. Unluckily for us, this means that A LOT gets lost in translation.

 

(Your attempt to be kind to a mean blogger or complaining customer by saying, “Wow, that’s too bad” may seem innocent to you, but snarky, cold, and apathetic to everyone else.)

 

This means you’ll need to go out of your way to convey the fact that you’re a pleasant person who is responding with warmth rather than blunt snobbery.

 

You can do this by using a simple smiley or sad face, exclamation points, all caps on a word for emphasis, and/or more descriptive language.

 

“Fine.” becomes >> “That’s fine with me!”

“I don’t know.” >> “I don’t know. :)”

“Sorry to hear that.” >> “I’m SO sorry to hear that, Amanda.”

 

That extra dose of emotion + personality will do wonders to how you are perceived, resulting in happier + more productive convos.

 

 

Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless. - Mother Teresa | How To Handle Negative Comments Online via Olyvia.co

 

5. TAKE THEIR SIDE

 

You might want to sit down for this next one.

 

Negative comments are sometimes — maybe even much of the time — the best thing for us.

 

Of course, I’m not suggesting that you give ANY weight whatsoever to the small minded, clueless, or conniving.

 

(That would be foolishness!)

 

But what I AM suggesting is that, of the complaints + comments you are most likely to receive, there’s going to be a smidgen of truth in there somewhere that — if heeded — will help you become better at what you do.

 

This happened to me about a month ago when a reader + email subscriber shared with me that they thought I was overly polite in one my emails (so much so that it was coming across as insecurity rather than the respect I thought I was showing).

 

Was this hard to hear? Absolutely. Did I want to excuse away her feedback by believing she just wasn’t “my ideal customer?” You bet.

 

But after a (few) nice dinners + a Lord of the Rings marathon (Frodo, Gandalf, + Aragorn fix all things), I realized:

 

She was right, goshdarnit.

 

While my intentions were good, I wasn’t presenting myself from a position of confidence.

 

In fact, when I was willing to look at the situation with a clear mind, I had to admit that when I sent that very email I remember worrying that it would be “bothersome” to people.

 

Clearly that came across in my writing. And it was a holding me back.

 

Since this comment came to me anonymously I couldn’t respond, but if you can, try saying something like, “You know, you’re right. I could change ______. Thank you for that suggestion.”

 

Even if you’re an old pro, you’re not always going to make the right decision or do the right thing. Don’t let your pride hold you back from hearing what you need to hear in order to get better.

 

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” - Bill Gates | How To Handle Negative Comments Online via Olyvia.co

 

6. APOLOGIZE (GRACIOUSLY)

 

To work with the public in any sense, but especially as one who deals with paying clients or customers, requires a certain level of maturity.

 

Meaning?

 

You have to know when you’re wrong.

 

And you have to be willing to say “I’m sorry,” EVEN IF you weren’t completely at fault or the situation was beyond your control.

 

When you have a brand to grow and a reputation to protect, you can’t make excuses. You can’t shift blame. And you can’t accuse your customer/client for being at fault.

 

(No, the person shouldn’t act like my 5 year old when he throws a temper tantrum…but s/he will. Your responsibility is to be the epitome of professionalism. That is all.)

 

When it’s clear someone has had a bad experience with you, move into sincere apology + remedy mode:

 

“Oh wow Lisa, I’m genuinely sorry this happened. You’re right, it is unacceptable. Would you email me at ________ so I can get this situation fixed for you? Thank you so much.”

 

Customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong. – Donald Porter | How To Handle Negative Comments Online via Olyvia.co

 

 

So how do you (out)charm your critics? Do you have a favorite response? (If you have a story about an upsetting comment that ended with happily ever after, share that, too!)

 

 

Erika Madden

(Chief Olyvia)

 

 

Serve With Confidence monthly subscription

 

 

  • This is some great advice, thanks for sharing! I haven’t had the pleasure of having to deal with a negative comment YET, however you can bet on my kitty’s fluffy white paws that I’ll be turning to this post when that day comes! 😛

    xoxo
    Allison
    http://www.livelaughwonder.com

    • That’s GOOD Allison! So glad you haven’t encountered that yet!

  • Thanks so much for this advice, Erika. I agree that so much is lost in online communication so we need to double-check our emails, etc. to make sure they come across the way we are intending. I still receive emails from time to time from people who are well-meaning but who typed everything in all caps. Eekk-stop yelling at me! 😉 And I think it was really wise of you to do a LOTR marathon and have a nice dinner or two before responding in frustration to your reader. 🙂 Love that.

    Have a great day!

    • Oh boy, emails are a doozy, Jennie! I think people need an etiquette course on them. That’s where I see the most offenders, quite honestly. People don’t realize how their language is coming across and how offensive it can be (such as your typing in all caps example). Yikes! 🙂

  • Awesome advice!! I have only had 1 somewhat negative comment that, while directed to me, was really more to the product I had talked about (not sure if they thought i was affiliated with the company or not) and it was a post from months ago. I commented back saying I understood their frustration and apologized for them having experienced that and mentioned that I wasn’t affiliated with them, I was just a customer like them and was sorry to hear she’d had such a different experience than I had. And then I kind of left it…I wasn’t sure what else to say! I’m going to pin this since I’m sure at some point, I’ll encounter this again! Thanks for sharing these tips!

    • Vicky your response sounds perfect. Wow, kudos to you for going above and beyond by apologizing and acknowledging their frustration! I’ve witnessed exact conversations in the blogosphere like that where the person in your situation has taken it personally and started ranting at + insulting the commenter. It makes me want to cringe! I love how sympathetic you were. <3

  • Fantastic advice! I use to work at Marriott International Hotels and this strategy is very similar to what yours. Feel empathetic to their situation and be nice. Love it!

    • Thank you for sharing your experience, Andrea! I love that. I used to work in customer service at a national medical company and this was our training as well. It made for tough days sometimes, but it was so effective.

  • Great post, Erika!

    So glad I finally have a way of dealing with all these sexually suggestive, sexist comments that get fired at me on an almost daily basis.

    • Hmmm, I see that I should have put something in there on how to deal with wisecracks. 🙂

      • I mean…I’m glad you spotted that I was joking…HOWEVER…

        I think I’m offended? 😉

        • LOL Online communication at it’s best! I love ya. Your humor is epic.

  • thealishanicole

    I LOVE your approach! I got my first negative comment a few months ago and while my first initial reaction was to get upset & fire back (I mean my blog is my baby!) I kept it cool & told them that I appreciated their opinion.

    • LOVE that, Alisha. Yes, our blogs are our babies! It’s so hard to hear anything that doesn’t treat it like the best thing everrrrr. But as entrepreneurs I believe our success will come from being resilient.

  • This is a great piece, Erika! I have dealt with some nasty commenters on social media in the past and totally needed a guide like this for how to deal with it. I had to really teach myself to not reach for the ‘delete’ button and instead step back to let discussions take their course. I love your approach with asking questions. One can totally turn a negative comment into a conversation and a learning experience for their business if they can push through that initial sting. Thanks so much for this post!

    • I’m sorry you had to deal with that, Susannah. It can be so upsetting. I used to be active in the mommy blog community and WHOA. People can get vicious fast. 😛

      I love what you say about pushing through that initial sting. That really is the key part of all of this. Most mistakes are made in that instant rash response where we feel we just “have” to say something back. If everyone just made it a policy to wait 24 or 48 hours, it would improve the result dramatically.

  • Sharon R

    Very well written! Thanks Erika! I always look forward to your posts. 🙂 <—–see what I did there! #alwayslearning

  • Cari Nadeau

    I love this post, Erica! I am going to be blogging soon about some controversial topics and I needed to read this. I see how others are attacked who blog about the topics I will be discussing and I get that some topics have an emotional punch. I am very nervous to go into this territory…I mean you guys get these comments and you’re not discussing anything even remotely controversial! Anyway, my point is (yes, I have one) I am super uncomfortable with the way some people respond to the comments they receive. Better to delete (if called for) than be mean and rude. Fingers crossed I don’t get eaten alive!

    • Ooo, I feel nervous for you, Cari. People can definitely get just plain awful towards others when it comes to certain topics. 😛 (As I mentioned to someone up above, I used to be active in the mommy blogging space and every little thing was nitpicked, criticized, and stomped on. lol)

      I have to admit, I’m intrigued now though — I’ll be keeping an eye on your blog to see what you write about and how others respond!

      • Cari Nadeau

        Uh oh. That’s the space (sort of – I’m a natural childbirth educator) I’m headed into. Guess I better decide to become thicker skinned or avoid the controversial topics. Guess I’ll have to feel it out!

  • Kayla Hollatz

    So on point. It’s best to answer with a nice reply to show you are the bigger person. Most of the negative comments I’ve gotten in the past were based on my appearance (as if that has anything to do with blogging) but a simple ‘”Sorry you feel that way” response goes a long way.

    • Okay, seriously, what is it about the comments on appearance? :p I’ve gotten the same, all from men. (Big surprise.) We should all be adults at this point, yes?

      “Sorry you feel that way” is a classic response. Love it.

  • Great advice, Erika! I used to work in customer service / face-to-face positions in libraries and a lot of what you said here is what I was taught by seasoned librarians when dealing with angry patrons!

    • Ohhh, I didn’t even think about how necessary that would be, but you’re so right! I can see how a job such as that would definitely require patience and a cool head.

  • Oh this is great advice. While I have yet to deal with anything really negative yet, I do tend to react quickly and not always in the most classy way 😉 i guess that’s the Jersey girl still in me! But I love how you took some time to cool and not only think about your response but look at yourself and ask if there wasn’t any truth to what was said.

  • Marlene Chiasson

    This is some sweet advice Erika. Thank you! I haven’t been on the negative comment end, but I see it often and I find it quite childish. It’s not even constructive and it targets the individual rather than resolving the issue at hand. I like how you dealt with your reader/email subscriber, but I need to be honest here and say that I love how nice you are in your emails and it’s quite refreshing to read them. Nowadays, there is no hello, no goodbyes, it’s very informal, and it’s like chummy-chummy without really knowing the person you are writing too. I often get first emails and it’s like I’ve known this person for years when in fact, I have no clue where she/he is coming from. I know you had little information to go on regarding this particular email, but being sensitive and insecure can be good at times and to be blunt, we all are. What I’m getting at is that you will “bother” some readers with your kindness and “blow away” others with the same attitude. I say, show your true colors and those who love you will follow. That said, I love this post and you are spot on :).

  • Great advice! I love your use of caps or emojis to help soften some remarks. I do struggle with how I come accross online so this was really helpful, thank you.
    Alex x

  • Julie Harris

    So much valuable advice here! Seriously, Erika. This is excellent. I think your number one tip is the most important, “prove that you’re listening”. Communication is by far the most important part of my job and when working virtually with my clients, I have to work extra hard to be sure that I’m proving to them that I understand what they are asking for. Everyone thinks differently and registers information differently. Taking those extra steps to prove that I’m listening and understand the client’s needs helps build so much more trust between us.

    I also love what you said about how negative comments can often be the most useful and constructive for us. I feel like this tip goes hand and hand in with the first one. Listening and reflecting on the truths that come from criticism and negative feedback. There’s always a lesson to be learned and then applied the next time around.

    I 100% agree with your last statement too. “Customers don’t expect us to be perfect” No one’s perfect, but it’s how we handle ourselves that creates a perfect client experience. How we conduct ourselves is so crucial. It can either be a terrible awful painful experience, or a powerful learning experience and opportunity to blow your client away with how you manage and take advantage of the situation. Taking a negative situation and turing it into a positive one is such an empowering feeling and can turn a potentially angry client into a permanent brand ambassador and adoring fan.

    Thank you for another amazing post 🙂 Brilliant as always my friend!

  • Nikolett Gyaraki

    Great advices! Thank you! 🙂

  • Great post Erika! Really good for when negative comments are actually constructive criticism; however I’ve found most of negative comments any blogger could get are just plain rude nonsense, and whereas the constructive ones you need to aknowledge, learn from and respond politely, the latter you just need to ignore like nothing happened and delete from your blog, youtube channel and mind! 😀 polite constructive criticism is always a good thing you can learn a lot from (even if the other person isn’t right it will teach you loads!) but blunt rudeness and trolling is just bullying. Please, please never waste a second in a comment like that or let it bring you down or even make you doubt yourself because it’s always plain rubbish with no value! 😀
    I love your blog, Erika, I’m a bschooler myself and love everyone who admires Marie too! 😀 keep up the amazing work!

  • Elizabeth (Plant Based Bride)

    Thank you for this, Erika. Negative comments can be so hard to deal with when you’re working incredibly hard to help others! I’m saving this post to reference the next time someone gets under my skin!

  • Daniel

    Good overview. Thanks!