Criticism and abuse of you and your writing

Final article in a series of three about criticism – the valuable type, and the abusive type. Do not feed the trolls today.

This week I’ve been looking at how to consider feedback that we, as professional communicators and writers, may well get from our readers, members, stakeholders and our audience in general. I’ve looked at three main groups of people, those who disagree with our message, those who find fault with our writing and now, those people who hurl abuse at us and the organisation we represent.

‘Do not feed the trolls’ is an apt saying from the depths of Internet history, and is as true today on public forums, message boards and social media as it ever was within IRC channels and bulletin boards. It pretty much sums up my advice within the professional realm of business too.

But criticism can hurt, and abuse is abuse; how should we deal with it personally, and what should our ‘on behalf of the company’ response be?

Know the difference between feedback and abuse

Feedback is valuable, like really. Not only is it a joy to have an engaged readership, but there will be people ‘out there’ who know more than you, and it can be a real boon to get access to them. But ranting abuse and hurled insults are not any kind of critique and shouldn’t be dealt with in the same way as the genuine feedback we’ve discussed recently.

People who enjoy ‘getting a rise’ from you are known as trolls, and your every response feeds their ego and keeps them coming back for more. If they have hatred in their heart and they’ve blasted off a text, email or left a comment for you that’s just vile by anyone’s standards then this isn’t ‘dialogue’ it’s abuse. Say it with me, ‘abuse‘.

Do you want to be a victim of abuse? Of course not, and you won’t be if you don’t accept it. Remember, while people who give genuine feedback are involved with your work, trolls are not.

They have no power over you, other than that which you give them.

Nothing you do or say will be good enough for the trolls who have decided to take an opposite stance to you, or the organisation you represent. They’ll consider any conciliatory action on your part to be ‘pathetic’ and will continue to heap complaints upon you. There is literally, no pleasing some people.

Do not feed the trolls

In general, malicious people should not be responded to in any manner whatsoever. If you receive feedback that is malicious or wishes you or your company harm then it’s not feedback, it’s abuse.

If you must respond to messages of disgust that don’t contain hatred or abuse then be brief, let them know that they’ve been heard but say no more. Don’t give explanations (they’ll just be shredded in the troll’s next email) and don’t say you’re sorry (this is different to responding to a genuine complaint, where you must do a lot more for them).

The troll will almost certainly respond with a barrage of abuse, and you should then withdraw, making no further response. You must not enter into a debate with these people – they are not your constituents and will drain you of your time and energy – and that time and energy should be reserved for the people you actually serve!

Occasionally by responding in a neutral-to-positive manner, people who think you’re evil (and have therefore decided to abuse you) can be surprised that you haven’t sent them abuse back. One in a hundred trolls can transform into a human being, and can become your greatest fan, if handled well.

But unless you smell a frustrated and upset human under the troll abuse, I suggest you don’t respond – delete their message and think nothing of it.

Emotionally, you might take their abuse to heart – stop! What do they know of you? What value have they brought to your life? Their anger is not directed at you personally, so why take it personally? Even if they address you by name and criticise a decision or action of yours, the abuse is still not directed at you personally because of course you’ve taken that decision or action with the greater good in mind, for other people, for the majority, or the vulnerable minority.

(If someone screams at you for your bad driving, then that’s abuse for you to deal with, but we’re talking about your leadership and communication skills here!)

While I’ve discussed the value of criticism, I very much want to impress upon you that abuse is not feedback, and you should dismiss it (in general) without further thought. You know what abuse smells like, don’t accept it, ever.


P.S. It take no effort at all to blast off a 12 word sentence of abuse to someone; zero effort = zero value. Why take to heart something of zero value?

1 comment
  1. I’ve been looking forward to this blog and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s difficult not to take abuse to heart, but I’m learning not to, and I’ve certainly stopped feeding the trolls. I find the hardest thing of all is to delete an email you know will contain abuse before reading it – my instinct is to want to know what it says – but I’ve managed it a couple of times recenly and it’s very empowering :)

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