The Ten Stages of Dealing with Haters

Anyone who puts his or herself out into the world deals with haters, defined as those who “thrive on showing hate toward, criticizing, or belittling other people or things.”

As someone who teaches, writes books, and gives plenty of public lectures, I have had lots of opportunities to hear from critics. They write book reviews, course evaluations, and even Quora or AMA posts that can be scathing. Even when negative responses are a tiny percentage of all the responses, they sting like crazy. One hater is equal to hundreds of fans.

To gather data on this, I looked at Amazon reviews for different books to see if everyone deals with haters. Clearly, they do. It doesn’t matter whether you write a top selling book, earn a Nobel or Pulitzer Prize for your writing, or publish the Bible, you will have one star reviews!

I decided to reflect upon how I deal with critics, and came up with my 10 stages of responding to haters. Perhaps this will be useful to those on both sides of the equation.

Reaction 1: Pain — The initial response is pure, visceral pain. It feels like being kicked in the stomach.

Reaction 2: Anger — Pain is followed closely by anger. After working incredibly hard to craft something, often over months or years, it infuriating that someone can eviscerate it with a single sentence.

Reaction 3: Sadness — Pain is followed by deep disappointment and the urge to run away. My most common thought at this stage is, “I’m not going to put myself out there again… It hurts too much. It’s not worth it.”

Reaction 4: Blame — Sadness gives way to blaming the hater. There must be something wrong with them. They clearly have a problem.

Reaction 5: Explain — Blame leads to explaining their behavior. For example, they just don’t understand, or they didn’t take the time or make the effort to appreciate what was created.

Reaction 6: Accept — Blame melts into acceptance. I realize that I can’t please everyone, and that not everyone is going to appreciate me or what I do. The world is a really diverse place, and I can’t expect universal approval.

Reaction 7: Learn — Acceptance opens the door to learning. I finally take a deep breath and mine the criticism for insights. It can take weeks or months to get to this stage, depending upon the situation. I ask myself if there is some truth to what they are saying, and what I can learn from the feedback.

Reaction 8: Question — With these lessons, I have to decide what I want to do with them. How might I modify what I am doing to address the complaint, and do I want to do so?

Reaction 9: Pivot — With answers to these questions, I might choose to do things differently the next time — to shift my behavior based on the feedback.

Reaction 10 : Bounce — It is now time to put the lessons into action by getting back on the horse, trying to avoid the same ditches. After many years of doing this, I know that I’ll find many new ditches into which to fall. Each time I get a chance to learn something new.

This process is reminiscent of the stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — except that in this case there is an opportunity to move beyond depression and acceptance to do something differently.

Feedback is a gift, but it doesn’t always come in a beautiful package. In fact, most of the time it is tied to a stone and thrown through your window by someone who doesn’t know and love you. It’s hard to consider this a blessing. The hardest part is removing the rock, clearing away the shards of glass, reading the message, determining if there is anything useful to learn… and then deciding how to go on.

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