Coddle the Critics, Tolerate the Trolls, and Hug the Haters
Before I begin to make my case for putting up with the haters in your life more graciously, let me come clean. I hate, I mean detest, “feedback.” I’d rather go to the dentist than read feedback after I give a speech or publish an article. I’m easily insulted by faint praise so imagine how I feel with real criticism.
Recently, and I’m showing my age here, someone slammed one of my recent YouTube vids with a one word insult, “Noob.” I had to look it up to confirm that in fact, I had just been called a 21st century idiot. To be fair, the interview he commented on, was not my best. It was a painful reminder that I don’t have anyone’s permission to waste their time, insult their intelligence or preen.
And that is the point. If this hater had not taken the time to call me a noob, I wouldn’t know that my work didn’t live up to expectations and I wouldn’t be inspired, if only to avoid being called a noob again, to do better work.
Recently, I did a piece about a voluntourism start up. Some of the hardcore impact folks mocked the piece and the program rather mercilessly on social media. Ouch! When I piped up in defense of the piece and the program, the tone changed—but only slightly. Rather than make pithy quips about the failings, the crowd of trolls provided meaningful essays on the failures of the program and the piece. Ouch again!
Yes, a few conceded a few points and a few fans showed up in support, but the consensus was that the program wouldn’t have the desired impact and that the piece was deficient in its analysis and reporting. I was ticked off. How could anyone be critical of my writing when, obviously, I am just a nomination cycle away from a Pulitzer! And how could anyone be critical of this well-intentioned program that I’d spent almost ten minutes vetting!
After sulking for a few days (can you imagine what a pain I am to live with?) I decided to invite one of the haters to be on my show. She was brilliant. The article for the show got five times more reads than the first piece and the show got 10 times more views in the first 24 hours.
What happened here? I had a better subject, I wrote a better piece and I had a more consequential discussion on air. Why? Precisely because I listened to the critics.
Trust me, I’m the first person to think of everyone critical of my work in any way, shape or form as a hater or a troll, but despite the fact that they infuriate me, I concede that I could not improve my work without them.
Positive feedback will only go so far. It is vitally important to know what works, but that idea is almost meaningless without the word “better.” That is, I need to know what works better than the crap, well, let’s say less brilliant content I produce. That means I need to know what doesn’t work. If all I know is what works, I can only plateau. To improve, I need to know both what works and what doesn’t work.
So, we need the haters and the trolls to tell us frankly and honestly what our fans, friends and mothers won’t tell us, when we suck, when we’ve got it wrong, when we make mistakes. The fear of negative feedback will naturally force us to improve our work.
If we are, and we definitely are, trying to solve big world problems like hunger, poverty, AIDS, malaria, cancer and every other public health menace, then we need—we desperately need—the negative feedback to identify the weaknesses in our plans.
The world’s biggest problems won’t solve themselves and they won’t get solved by processes built only on positive feedback. We need to love the haters because they are a vital part of accelerating our progress.
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