How To Respond to Negative Feedback

by | Jul 6, 2015 | All Blog Feed | 2 comments

Mark Twain is often credited with the following quote: “If you’re not pissing somebody off, you’re not doing your job.”

I have no idea if Mark Twain actually said those words or not (as I’ve also seen them credited to a handful of other people). Nevertheless, the words ring true. In writing, at least, it’s often better to be hated than ignored. So needless to say I was ecstatic when I earned my first piece of “hate mail.” If nothing else, it proved that someone other than my best friend was reading my work…or so I thought at first glance.  More on that in a minute, but first – I’m guessing you want to see the message.

It read:
“I am against rape and violence, but not for you promoting your sexual agenda with your multicolored picture. I am sorry your are confounding the two issues. Choose one. I would have donated to your writing, but not sure what your real purpose is.”

What rainbow picture was the sender referring to?
In the corner of the page was a small picture of me, my Facebook profile picture, with an overlay rainbow.


Okay, so I have to admit that I was pretty disappointed that my first piece of ‘hate mail’ didn’t have to do with anything I’d written (womp womp).

Although, considering the last two articles I’d published — 15 Things Worse than Gay Marriage and Love Just Won, I’m pretty sure the rainbow filter on my profile picture is the least of the evidence of a “sexual agenda” I might have.

I love a juicy bit of irony, don’t you?


“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

– V. Frankl

What really struck me about this email, however, was the realization of a budding opportunity. I recognized that I was sitting at the edge of an incredible crossroads of how to respond.

Ignore it?
Address it?

And if the latter were my choice, which tactic to take?

So before I share my response, let’s discuss a few ground rules to which I chose to adhere. Many of these I’ve learned in my training as a counselor, others are just — at least in my humble opinion — common sense.

The Ground Rules for Responding to Negative Commentary

1) It’s not about you. 
It can’t be about you. This person doesn’t know you. Whatever the problem is, it ultimately rests in them. So right from the get-go, do not take this personally.

2) Identify the goal of your response. 
Is it to persuade, inform, defend, or something else entirely? For my purposes, the goal was to clarify my identity (that rainbow filtered picture was the tip of the iceberg!) and to inform. To demonstrate why I think these issues are not only important, but also linked.

3) Remember that others are entitled to have opinions, and to disagree with yours.
As someone who makes part of her living off the fact that she has a lot of them, it would be beyond hypocritical to chastise others for having opinions of their own.

4) No matter what you write, wait 24 hours before sending it. 
As satisfying as firing back a snarky email might feel in the moment, I don’t want to run the risk of sounding like a bully or a psycho. My father taught me a long time ago that you can have the most legitimate stance in the world, but as soon as you give yourself permission to lose control and “go off” — even if you would’ve been technically in the right — you’re in the wrong.

5) Stand behind every word you say or write. 
Ask yourself: If my response were sent to my boss or printed on the front page of the newspaper — how would I feel? Or better yet, if someone sent this to my mother, how would I feel?

6) Do not apologize for who you are. 
No one is perfect. Admit your growth points if necessary. But there is a tremendous difference between admitting imperfection, and feeding into the shame cycle of others.

original photo credit: Flickr