Haters Hate and I Choose to Listen

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Haters gonna hate.

It’s what top bloggers and community managers say when they interpret criticism to be nasty and inappropriate.

In the case of trolls that deliver aggressive comments that border on threats or worse, you have to agree with them. This post is about the haters, the ones that deliver criticism in harsh ways that irks the recipient, but doesn’t necessarily equate to trolldom.

Brands and bloggers alike need to listen to harsh critics. Sometimes these people are right in spite of their methods.

Brands that turn a deaf ear may find themselves facing a groundswell of discontent customers. Bloggers who simply write off haters may find their community abandons them as criticism mounts.

In recent years I’ve seen both consumer brands and top-ranked bloggers severely tarnish their reputations by writing off haters.

Differentiate Listening and Responding

This doesn’t mean you have to engage people who treat you poorly.

Far from it, I don’t think you should interact with them. In fact, I’m pretty quick to remove trolls from community conversations.

Nasty behavior certainly reaps its own rewards.

But it’s about separating the message from the messenger. Sometimes when you remove the vitriol you find that haters and trolls have a counterpoint that holds weight.

My Experience with Strumpette

One of the worst troll experiences of my life came at the hands of Strumpette, the pseudonym for Brian Connolly. This rough engagement even resulted in my website getting shut down for a few hours.

Strumpette’s criticism centered around my ideas at that time about social media being off and not grounded in basic communications principles, like ROI and media theory.

Brian’s methods were wrong. I ignored him, and eventually he left me alone.

Yet as time passed, I saw those weaknesses to be true, and became more conservative in my approaches towards online media. Brian’s criticism had some merit.

In recent years, Brian has reached out to me, and we had a cordial conversation. I was willing to forgive knowing that if I hadn’t been so burned by the attack-style behavior, I would have changed course sooner.

Further, if I listened I would have been quicker to accept Andrew Keen‘s writings, which influenced Strumpette’s stance. Today, I think that Keen holds great weight in his counter opinions to today’s digital culture.

Choosing to Listen

Today, I choose to listen to haters. I don’t engage them if they’re too forceful, and in some cases, if they cross the trolldom line, I remove them from my network.

But I take note of their message.

Once in a while, events prove them right. Because I listened, I am able to let go of ideas faster and change course.

The Critical Corollary

Tea Critics. Item 1
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There’s a corollary for critics. Critics may decry the hater meme, but it won’t go away.

If criticism is delivered with vinegar, most people will spit it out. In fact, they often entrench in their current position.

For counterpoints to have maximum impact consider how they will be received.

Inspiring people to change behavior requires a different approach than fingerwagging or worse, troll-like attacks and flash mobs.

What do you think? Should haters just be written off?


  • Absolutely agree that we have to separate the message from the messenger, and painful as it can be, even try to parse the most vitriolic and nasty messages. Understanding why people hate is important information too — just look at the world political situation.

    But as you say, paying attention to the message doesn’t mean you have to respond to the messenger. Companies (and people) have to learn when to engage, and when to just let the haters hate, over in their corner full of hate.

    • You were the one who finally convinced me to stop feeding the troll. Thanks so much for that. Life got better quickly.

  • This is ridiculous. Obviously the author has no idea about… oh wait, wrong blog…

    Two great points Geoff:
    – If a criticism is delivered with vinegar, most people will spit it out.
    – Inspiring people to change behavior required a different approach

    This was evident in the whole Chick-fil-A controversy a few weeks back. Those who disagreed with the CFA president responded with hate, but all it did was galvanize CFA’s fans. I may be a contrarian here, but I think a golden opportunity was lost for proponents of gay marriage.

    • I agree with you! I mean Chick-fil-A had lines out the door from all of its supporters!

      I remember the first time I cam across this principle, which was in Dale Carnegie’s how to win friends. Carnegie was adamant that if you criticize people they will almost always 1) dislike you and 2) do the opposite. There you have it.

      Thanks for a great comment!

  • “Amanda” asked for the ROI while everyone was still in the “free love” movement of social media. We all said, “tweet and they will come” and “she” said, “yeah but what are they doing, talking or buying”? I always liked following her feed, although sometimes it was nasty just for the sake of being nasty. Still, she made people think when they didn’t want to and I agree with your post, sometimes you need some trolling from outside the box.

    • “She” was right in the end. I think the circus distracted us from the message a bit, but she was right, and I, for one, was wrong. That’s all I can say about that.

  • For me the haters, the criticizers, are to a degree like an unhappy customer. If the stats turn out to be similar, then it means that if there is one hater, there are more. So it’s worth paying attention to the point of having a – quiet email discussion.

    • Yeah, I think that’s very, very true. Some folks are just unbalanced or bent on a fight, too. That doesn’t mean we should ignore their message, though.

  • I think it’s all about delivery. Sometimes I deliver some pretty harsh criticism, but I strive never to do so in the open stream. The only exception is if I write a harsh book review, and in that case, I never make it about the author – I make it about the content. If you’re a writer, you write knowing that not everyone will – or should – love everything you do.

    I think people are too swift to call “hater” and I think people are too swift to shirk criticism. I want to know that people are being honest with me, but I don’t want to feel like my head was cut off either.

    Nice post!

    • and my face is back :)

    • I think you and I are both probably too sensitive in this matter, but hell, that’s who we are!

      I think I remember you telling me about the book review stuff, and my first thought was “Uh oh.” LOL. Writers are very sensitive about their works! Three books in I don’t really care about hard criticism, but I am very protective of my work.

      • Yeah. I’m just a delicate flower. The sooner people realize that the better off they’ll be, dammit. :)

  • I maintain a basic principle in business meetings, online and life in general: disagree with issues, not people. That keeps the vinegar and the vitriole at bay, and allows the points to be seen as “attacking” a point, not a person. It really comes down to a “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” stance, and if people “hate” by tackling issues, that’s OK by me. Like Margie said, it’s really all about the delivery. Cheers! Kaarina

    • Oh, I have seen even the issues become forceful in some ways. The conversation can be caustic without mentioning names. I’ve been a perpetrator of this myself in the past.

  • What I say to the hater is, “Thanks for the feedback, and I promise to weigh it carefully”. What I choose to do, is to ask others and weight the validity of the feedback before I make changes. I don’t have to take all feedback to heart, but I want to listen to it.

    • I wish I were as diplomatic all the time. Sometimes the best I can do is say nothing. Other times I completely screw up,less and less these days, but nevertheless…

  • this is a terrific post that makes an important distinction between trolls and ‘haters with a point to make’ – If the latter group raised specific points – I tend to answer these point one-by-one and keep it professional. I think that is important for both the haters to see but more important for others who might be following the conversation. If the haters persist in arguing for the sake of it then it is good to listen and not respond.

    • Yeah, good suggestion, thank you! If they get argumentative like that I also stop responding. If it happens multiple times they get classified as trolls in my book.

  • I find that comments from Haters, while they sting at first, can often be the most rewarding. People who have no interest in sugar coating their negative opinion tend to deliver the most concise and often useful criticism. I do agree though that it is best not to respond. Often when I respond to haters, it comes off as passive aggressive and sometimes pejorative which makes me look like kind of a douche. :) Great post as usual Geoff!

  • The thing about Strumpette was this…the writer’s true identity was hidden. And the persona was created with overtones of misogyny. No wonder you didn’t accept the feedback, negative or otherwise.

  • This falls in the uncomfortable zone between stuff you want to dismiss out of hand so you don’t become self-consciously obsessive and stuff you want to pay attention to so you don’t miss something useful. Although I pretty much ignore people who “attack” I do listen to people who disagree, even if it’s couched in aggressive language. You have to really train yourself to become totally unemotional about that stuff. Either way, there are better ways to express your opinion than nasty behavior.

    • It’s one of the best things I have learned from Jason Falls and Gini Dietrich. To not care emotionally. If I can do that successfully then I am in a good place.

  • It’s hard to admit when your worst critics have some shred of truth to what they’re saying. Listening to them is better than writing them off completely though, at least you stand to gain something from it. Think of it as a lesson in personal development, it’s a valuable quality to be so diplomatic.

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