How to Handle Negative Comments Online (Like A Pro)
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!)