How to Handle Feedback as a Sensitive Business Owner
But if you’re wired like me, negative feedback often launches a series of reactions in your brain that leaves you unmotivated, sad, and empty.
I once had a writing teacher who only cared about the “room for improvement” and never, ever mentioned any positives when giving feedback.
No matter how hard I tried, he always covered my essays with red ink: he underlined a few sentences, circled a few words, drew question marks and exclamation marks all over the paper, and gave me a C.
I was too scared to ask him to specify his feedback. I knew that he would talk about me, not about my work. And I didn’t need him to list all the things that were wrong with me. I was 16, I could do that myself!
It took me years to realize that I wasn’t the only one with some room for improvement.
Now I know that he wasn’t a good teacher – not because he never praised me (or anyone else), and not just because he knew nothing about useful feedback. He sucked at teaching because he lacked the one thing that every teacher needs. It’s not expertise. It’s empathy.
Today, I write for a living, and I still fight with the same demons: The fear of bad marks was replaced by the fear of no one reading, liking, and sharing my posts. The fear of harsh personal comments grips me every time I hit the publish button.
And my inner critic sometimes talks to me in the voice of my high school teacher.
Something in me is still waiting for his approval. And something in me still wants to play it small and safe because of people like him. But I choose to show up anyway.
It’s no longer just my own battle. It has never been.
Don't let the fear of negative comments keep you from showing up. It's not just your battle.Click To Tweet
Feedback and blogging
Blogging and feedback can’t live without each other. As I wrote previously, blog posts are prototypes: their job is to test your ideas and gain feedback before you create a final product. If you don’t pay attention to feedback, you’re missing an opportunity to learn what your peeps want from you and give them exactly that.
Working behind closed doors sets you up to fail. Even if you’re lucky and you do succeed, you’ll never know why, and you won’t be able to do it again and build on your success.
Blogging is marketing, and marketing needs to be measured. Always.
You can’t ignore feedback if you want to blog for business.
Now, your blog generates many different kinds of feedback:
★ Number of shares
★ Number of comments
★ Comments on the blog (what people said)
★ Comments and replies on social media
★ Email replies (after you share the post with your subscribers)
★ Links clicked
★ Visitors (number of people who visited the page)
★ Page views (how many times the page was viewed)
★ Average time on page
★ Bounce rate (the percentage of people who only viewed the single page and didn’t interact with the rest of your website)
★ Conversion rate (the percentage of visitors who became subscribers)
★ Referrals (where the people came from)
★ Search terms (what did they search for when they landed on your blog)
★ Links to your blog
★ And more
In case you wonder: the free Google Search Console (previously Google Webmaster Tools) is the best tool to track and analyze your data.
The most visible and easiest to understand for most of us are the first five items listed above. That’s why we tend to obsess over these things: when the number of shares and comments is low, we think the content is bad. When someone says something rude or points out a mistake, we’re frustrated and defensive.
When the post goes viral, we feel like winners – but only until the following week, when we hear crickets again.
But these feelings are based on emotions, not data. And if you want to use feedback to learn and grow, you have to put emotions aside (as hard as it is).
In fact, it’s similar to receiving feedback in school: Studies show that from the three types of feedback – grades, grades with comments, and comments only – the last one is the most helpful. The thing is, when students are given a grade and a comment, they skip right to the grade. No matter if they perceive it as good or bad, most of them don’t bother reading the comments.
Numbers ignite immediate emotions: bad mark (low number of shares) = failure; good mark (big number of shares, views, comments, new followers) = success.
But numbers are also vague, misleading, distracting, and unhelpful. Numbers gain meaning only in context.
Yes, engagement on the post (including shares) is an important metric, but it’s just one factor of many. Besides, you can control it only to a certain extent. And obsessing over what’s beyond your control is a waste of time and energy.
Thoughtful comments and replies from your readers tell you more than any numbers: you get ideas for future posts and products, constructive feedback, accountability, human-to-human connection, friendships, and intrinsic motivation.
But feedback isn’t always thoughtful, meaningful, and kind. Let’s admit it. The Internet is full of jerks, weirdos, unsolicited advice givers, and people who just want to hurt you. That’s one of the reasons why putting yourself out there is so scary.
How to handle negative feedback
Okay, now I’m not talking about numbers, but about words. Low numbers suck, but words can hurt you more than anything else. They get burned into your memory forever.
Your inner critic has a whole arsenal of bad things you’ve been told and isn’t afraid to use it.
And when you put yourself out there online, you can’t avoid being told bad things.
“If you’re going to show up and be seen, there is only one guarantee, and that is: You will get your ass kicked.”
In her 99U talk, Brené Brown talks about the critics in your audience. Every hurtful comment or a remark talks to you through them:
★ Shame. She says things like: “You’re not enough.”
★ Scarcity. She says things like: “Everything has already been said. Why would anyone listen to you?”
★ Comparison. She says things like: “You will never be as good as XYZ. Why should you even try?”
★ Brené leaves the fourth spot open for you to decide – so for me, this can be my high school teacher. He says things like “???” “!!!” and “I hope you’ll marry a rich man because that’s your only chance.” (True story.)
★ Yourself. Because you are your harshest critic.
Now, you can’t mute those voices, but you can choose how you react to them.
Brené says you should invite the critics into your audience (because they’ll show up no matter if they get an invitation or not) and tell them:
“I see you, I hear you, but I’m gonna show up and do this anyway. I got a seat for you and you’re welcome to come, but I’m not interested in your feedback.”
Brené also reminds us not to forget to invite people who love us – and as always, she is right about this: We’re so busy worrying about the critics that we forget about the people who matter: our friends, fans, and supporters. They already love us, so why should we try?
When you think of it, it’s so wrong. Because these are the people who count.
Here’s what you can do. Make a list of people whose feedback counts:
★ Mentors or coaches. You aren’t in high school, so you can choose your teachers.
★ Business friends. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll find at least one person who knows the real you and who also knows business. I mean, your mom may know you like no one else, but she may not be the best person to discuss business with.
★ Your past and current clients (if they’re also your dream clients).
★ Your readers and fans (those who share your values).
★ People you don’t know but whose work you admire (bloggers, business owners, authors, etc.). You can check your work with them in your head: What would Brené think?
How to get over the fear of feedback: Make a list of people whose opinion counts. Ignore the rest.Click To Tweet
What if they are right?
When you face any kind of negative feedback, first of all, check if the person falls into the category of people whose opinion counts or not. If not, let it be.
If the opinion does count, listen. Adopt the beginner mindset and welcome every opportunity to improve. Don’t interpret the words as “you aren’t good enough,” but as “let’s make it even better.”
A better way to measure success
At first sight, it seems that paying attention to numbers (shares, likes, page views) is the best way to measure success. But setting a goal based on numbers may not be a good idea.
The thing is, many factors influence the final number – and you aren’t in control of most of them. What’s the point in setting a goal you can’t directly control?
A smarter way to go about it is to replace “lag goals” (double the page views in 3 months) with “lead goals” (publish a new post every week for 3 months).
When your critics or your numbers start shouting at you that you aren’t good enough, just look at your measuring stick: your list of people whose opinion counts and your lead goals. And then tell your critics: “I see you, I hear you, but I’m gonna show up and do this anyway. I’m not interested in your feedback.”
Here is what to do now
★ Keep track of your analytics (marketing needs to be measured), but don’t build your idea of success upon numbers. Instead, set lead goals.
★ Make a list of people whose feedback counts.
★ Learn to recognize the critics in your audience (shame, scarcity, comparison, and more) and whenever they strike, tell them you aren’t interested in their feedback.
★ Do you have more ideas how to handle feedback? Let me know in the comments.