I talk a lot on this blog about earning trust and communicating with intention. But what happens when you begin attracting an audience? Then the real work begins. You have to keep people's attention. Which wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for one small issue: There will be haters.
These people will want to knock you down and boo you off stage. They'll criticize and slander you, and there's nothing you can do about it. If you're not careful, these people can really get to you.
My friend, Chad, leads music for a church. Every Monday, he receives a note on his desk from “Anonymous.” This person tells him what a terrible job he did the day before and that he should quit.
Chad recently wrote a letter on his blog entitled, “Dear Anonymous.” In it, he asked the person publicly if the two of them could get together and talk it out. As far as I know, the person hasn't responded yet.
The other week, I received an email from a reader who told me I was getting arrogant with my writing. I take this kind of thing seriously. I emailed and called a few friends, asking for feedback. (I've built my platform on challenging people, but the last thing I want is to sound like a jerk.)
I replied to the person, thanking them and asking for specific examples. When I led a creative team for four years, one thing I learned was this: Feedback is always a gift, and you should look for truth in criticism.
Unfortunately, I didn't hear back. That disappointed me. There is an important principle at work here.
The difference between criticism & hate
We should always look for ways in which critics can help us grow. We should always humble ourselves and listen to voices of disagreement.
But (and this is important) if someone only wants to criticize and isn't willing to engage in dialogue, that person is not a critic. They're a hater. And there is a fine line between being a helpful voice of correction and a troll.
I've found that as your influence grows, some people will want to flame you, no matter what. Not for any evident or rational reason.
“Some men just want to watch the world burn,” Alfred tells Batman. Your job, sometimes, is to not let them.
How to respond to criticism
What do you do when you encounter these people? Well, first you hear them out. You don't ever want to have the reputation of being unapproachable when it comes to feedback.
But then you have a choice to make. You can do one, and only one, of the following:
You can obsess over the criticism. Worry. Pander. Try to please everyone, all the while watering down the quality and integrity of what you do.
Or you can get on with the work. Do what you were made to do. Pursue passion, not approval. And pay the necessary consequences to doing work that matters.
The reality is this: You are not in this creativity business to make everybody happy. That's impossible. What you're called to do is say something worth disagreeing with, to change the world — in some small way — with your words. If you're doing that, you're on the right track.
So go say something awesome, something worthy of criticism. And if it does get flamed, thank God someone's listening.
What's the last thing you said that was worth criticizing? Share in the comments.