Being courageous and vulnerable enough to share your work with the world is hard enough.
Dealing with haters and critics, who unfairly judge you and your work is like getting sucker punched by someone after extending your hand to them for a friendly handshake.
No matter what you do — whether you publish a book or hide it unpublished in your drawer; leave your corporate job to run a business or stay in your corporate job full-time; eat healthy and exercise weekly or binge eat junk food daily — people will still throw all kinds of hate and criticism at you, especially if you stand for something unique and controversial.
Till date, no human being or great piece of work has escaped criticism and hateful comments.
For example, one of the most popular self-improvement books of all time, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has accumulated close to 425 negative reviews and comments on Amazon alone (that’s 10% of its total reviews!).
Haters and critics are here to stay and won’t go away anytime soon. Since this is the case, how can you effectively deal with haters in the most satisfying way possible?
CRITICS VS HATERS
First off, it’s important that we clarify the difference between critics and haters. Not all criticism and judgmental comments are equal — in fact, you may find that some criticism can be very constructive for your work.For example, recently I’ve received some helpful constructive feedback from my readers to deliver zero fluff, inspirational science based articles that are easy to understand and apply quickly in their everyday life.
Let’s say for example, you recently published a book.
You’ve put in some serious blood, sweat and tears for several months or even years to finish writing this book — this doesn’t even include the painstaking hard work you’ve put into publicising the book after publishing date.
Assuming your book is available for purchase on Amazon, you’ve taken that bold and courageous step to putting yourself and your work in front of millions of people who could well be haters and critics.
Even though you’ve been racking up some good 4 and 5-star reviews from people who appreciate your book, you begin to notice 1 and 2-star reviews with judgmental comments from people who don’t like your work.
Here’s an example from one of the first Amazon reviews American lifestyle Entrepreneur, Tim Ferriss, initially received for his popular book, The 4 Hour Work Week.
“This book is mistitled. The subtitle should be ‘Escape 9–5, Live Anywhere, Join the New Rich, and Become the World’s Biggest Jerk.’ Don’t buy it. He’ll probably use your money to set a Guinness Book record for the most kittens strangled in one minute.”
Is this constructive criticism or a hater leaving a salty comment?
I’d say this is clearly a hater and here’s why…
The intention of the reviewer was to attack the person who wrote the book.
As a rule of thumb, if the intention behind the criticism is to help you improve your work, then this could well be constructive criticism.
On the flip side, if the intention behind the criticism is to personally attack you as an individual instead of helping you improve, then this is most likely a hater.
Either way, we still have to handle these haters and critics without overreacting.
DEALING WITH YOUR INNER CRITIC
“The important thing is that you make sure that neither the favorable nor the unfavorable critics move into your head and take part in the composition of your next work.”
Some of the most common popular advice on how to handle haters and critics include the following:
- Agree with the hater (hopefully at some point they will apologize)
- Delete, block and ban hateful trolls
- Ignore them (realize it’s about them and their lack of love for themselves)
- Fight the hater to submission (annihilate the critic with undeniable truths from multiple sources)
This is simply because they do not directly deal with the core issue — your own inner critic.
Your inner critic is that voice in your head saying that you and your work is not good enough to be shared with the world.
This inner critic pushes your emotional buttons causing you to overreact negatively to any form of criticism even though some may be constructive or a tiny minority voice. (See Baumeister’s research paper explaining our tendency to remember negative instead of positive events)
It’s the reason why you may be so fearful of what other people think about your work, creating an unhealthy habit of people pleasing.
This inner critic is the first and only hater that you really have to deal with to truly be satisfied.
Just like you, I’ve struggled with these as well.
I’ve shut down entrepreneurial passion projects and ventures because of the flurry of negative criticism and judgement of my work by friends, coworkers, family and the web at large.
In anticipation of a wave of haters and critics, I procrastinated on writing and publishing my first book for several years because I was so worried about what other people would think of my work. One or two negative reviews or comments was enough at that point to cause me to question why I even bothered sharing my work with the public.
No matter how much I tried to ignore, fight back or agree with the haters, I still couldn’t quite handle the criticism in a satisfying way, until I finally discovered something profound to deal with my inner critic…
SERVING THE WORK
There is a story told about a seeker who approached a holy man and asked to follow him.
The sage of course, consented. The seeker was overwhelmed with joy, but slightly taken aback by the nonchalance she encountered. “How should I follow you, how do I leave my village and my family?” The sage responded, “Walk away just like the elephant who leaves a grassy place in the early morning.”
The seeker was still confounded, so the sage clarified.
“When an elephant sets its destination, no matter how gently she walks, she will inevitably step on ants.” 
Are you doing this to garner accolades and impress people? Do you work on your craft to serve others or serve yourself first?
These were some of the deep soul-searching questions I asked myself.
I quickly realised that the reason haters and critics easily got under my skin was simply because I was too focused on myself and the approval I would receive from them.
As soon as I switched my mindset to being a selfless servant leader of the audience and the work, I became much more receptive to constructive criticism, silenced my inner critic and emotionally disengaged from hateful comments.
Servant leadership in this context is not about being a pushover, but instead a deliberate conscious decision to lead by serving others needs first and foremost. Remind yourself every day that…
“I serve the work and the audience, but the audience and the work don’t serve me.
It’s not about being original.
It’s not about you.
It’s about the work and the audience. They don’t owe you anything.”
Any criticism of the work may be potentially constructive and useful.
It’s not your job to lose sleep on how this affects your own ego and emotions.
Your only job as the servant leader is to uncover the intent behind the criticism and make any necessary improvements to the work so that you can serve the audience better.
If the intent of the criticism is hateful and unhelpful, then you would quickly overlook this without emotionally overreacting. This is simply because you focus on the fact that the hateful comments can’t help you serve better, instead of worrying about your ego.
You may not be able to adopt this mindset straight away, but keep this in mind anytime you’re dealing with haters until the new habit sticks.
STEP INTO YOUR GREATNESS
The bottom line is that no matter what you do, there will always be someone who doesn’t like you and your work.
Sometimes these people could be straight up haters or critics with potentially constructive opinions. Either way, the most satisfying way to deal with people who judge you unfairly is to shift your focus from you (and your ego) to being a servant leader for others.
If you are truly striving to serve others first, neither praise nor criticism will matter as much to you.
Drive safe! Always keep your eyes on the road, not the rearview mirror. Someone may be gesticulating angrily, someone may be praising you, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter.
Header image: Ryan Melaugh