Dealing With Criticism

It was fun to crack open a little bit of our personal “stuff” last Tuesday for this post about the real $herdog (yes, I’m still patiently waiting for that nickname to catch on) and John’s J-Boom version. And a funny thing happened after sharing those. Not only did they receive over 1,200 amazingly awesome and encouraging comments (note to self: apparently you’re not a social pariah if you admit that you sometimes have strawberry cream cheese on your ear and are inclined to impersonate Cindy Lou Who) but we also got dozens of emails – not even exaggerating – asking about how to deal with criticism and respond to negative comments. And thus this post was born.

I guess by sharing all of our weird idiosyncrasies it encouraged people to write about something they’re struggling with and ask how we handle it? It also could have had something to do with this thread on the $herdog post. Either way, the emails mostly came from folks who run small blogs who have somehow fallen into larger readerships thanks to being pinned on Pinterest or otherwise thrust into the spotlight suddenly (like a feature on Apartment Therapy or Design Sponge). And the general gist of every single email was this: someone was blogging along about whatever they blog about (some of these people aren’t home bloggers at all) and then… zinger… it happened. A not-so-nice comment. And it stung.

With more readers definitely comes more “feedback” – both good and bad. And you know I’m happy to be that spunky little cheerleader on your shoulder shouting high-pitched overly-enthusiastic things like: “you can do it!” and “reach for the stars!” – so here’s my humble advice in a nutshell:

  • It’s your blog.
  • Be who you are. That is enough.
  • Try to give the good feedback as much weight as the bad.
  • Do all things with love.

Sounds corny huh? But I’ll explain how those four things have really helped us deal with the whole “you’re putting yourself out there and I’m anonymous so I’m going to tell you exactly how I feel” phenomenon. After all we’ve been told (both nicely and not so nicely) a few of the following things:

  • I’m not really interested in posts about _____, so I vote you skip them
  • I’m losing interest in big projects – do more little ones
  • Do more big projects – the small ones are filler
  • I want more Clara and Burger and everyday stuff
  • I want less Clara and Burger and everyday stuff
  • That paint color/art/room is ugly/not the right choice
  • Stop using certain words/expressions because they make me cringe
  • Stop being so cheap and spend some money
  • Stop spending so much money and be more frugal
  • Move faster, I’m bored
  • Move slower so I can catch up
  • I’m disappointed in this choice/this idea/you
  • This blog used to be better because _________
  • I will no longer read this blog because ________

See all the contradictions going on in there? Basically if we listened to every suggestion, well, we wouldn’t have a thing to blog about. Not a single thing. And after 2,000+ posts and over four years of doing this, we’ve definitely learned that some folks like things that others hate and some people have an opinion when it comes to how they’d run this blog if it were theirs. But here’s the thing. It’s not theirs.

Which brings us to…

Tip #1: It’s your blog. It might sound weird to point out, but your blog isn’t a magazine with a team of 30 people who poll their readers and try to please the largest group (at least I don’t think it is). The very definition of a blog is just an outlet to write whatever you want and share whatever part of your life that you’re passionate about in your own words and at your own pace and in whatever way feels natural to you. Whether you do it full time or as a hobby once a month, your only real task is to be who you are and share what you like and those who like it will drop in.

In our case, we’re just two people with a dog and a kid who happened to gain a following sharing our adventures on the home front. We just write about whatever’s going on in our lives and seems interesting to us, which has gotten us here (we’re not Facebook or Pinterest, but 5 million hits a month = crazytown to two kids like us). See, if you attempt to please every last commenter, as much as you love and value your readers, know that it’s Mission Impossible – and it could even lead to your blog’s downfall (it won’t be yours anymore). So trust yourself. Everyone else might have an opinion, but your voice really should be the loudest and your vote really should be the one that counts.

Tip #2: Be who you are. That is enough. I think most people are a little guilty of the whole wanting-more syndrome. When a show ends I immediately want the next episode to come on (and I want it to be even better than the last). When I get a magazine and it’s feeling a little thin I wish it were twice as thick. And I think boxes of Oreos should be bottomless (I expect them to refill themselves while I’m sleeping). So it’s no surprise that when it comes to blogging, well, readers are inclined to want more. They might say it not-so-nicely, or very kindly indeed. And either way it might make you feel sort of wop-wop. But it’s just human nature. And I can tell you from experience that you will be a happier person and a better blogger if you make peace with that completely normal phenomenon.

You can’t control how every single person reacts to your blog, but you can control how you blog. And struggling to eke out more to the point of exhaustion or burnout (be it recipes, sewing tips, DIY stuff, photography pointers, craft ideas, or anything else you blog about) just isn’t the answer. At least not if – in the words of Claire Danes in Homeland – you’re playing the long game. Ideally your method of blogging should make you feel more inspired, creative, and enthusiastic about blogging – which in turn will shine through so your readers get just as giddy about it as you do. There’s a reason that your blog is attracting a readership and people are coming back. So just go at your own pace and concentrate on doing things well and not making yourself sick or neglecting your family because a few usually very well-intentioned folks want something that should take ten days to be done, photographed, and blogged about in five. Forgive people for being excited and impatient. We all do it.

Of course establishing these boundaries applies to other scenarios too, so if you have a family blog and folks want more photos/info about your kids than you’re comfortable sharing, know that whatever you want to share = enough. In blogging I generally think if it feels wrong (or makes you feel tired/sad/uninspired), it’s wrong. So don’t do it. As much as I hate being told to relax (seriously, ask John, it’s on his “do not ever say that to me unless you want me to go crazy on you” list), just try to relax and do your thing.

Tip #3: Try To Give The Good Feedback As Much Weight As The Bad. The funny thing is that everyone we talk to who is wrestling with comment criticism admits they still get waaaaay more positive comments than negative ones. I mean the ratio is usually astounding. We know it just takes one cutting comment to get under your skin, but when the vast majority of people love something, it sucks to let one commenter sink your battleship. Let’s do some light math (I don’t do heavy math, but light math is ok). If over the course of a week or two, 99 people take the time to say they like your blog/post/project/house/whatever and one person chimes in to say something’s not their cup of tea, that still adds up to a 99% success rate. And those are good odds my friend- so keep on keeping on! Heck, even if a ton of your readers don’t like something but you like it, I wholeheartedly think that you should keep blogging about it. Why? Because you like it and – once again, for the folks in the back – it’s your blog. Picture me up stage wearing a pant suit and a pocket protector saying “I can’t hear you!” and holding the mic out so you can shout that chorus with me. Or dancing around in this outfit chanting it with my lovely family while serving up a heaping portion of jazz hands (Burger’s clearly hiding because he doesn’t want to be seen in this getup).

Tip #4: Do everything with love. It’s admittedly extremely cheesy (and you might hear a tiny violin playing in the background) but my favorite advice is usually summed up in that phrase. It’s actually written on a post-it note that I’ve had stuck to my laptop for the longest time. When someone takes time out of their day to say something they’d most likely never say to anyone’s face (or would they…?) I’ve come to realize that spewing the same venom that they flung in my direction won’t make me feel any better (heck, it would probably make me feel significantly worse).

So I try to look at them from a place of love. Maybe they’ve had a terrible day. Maybe they’ve lost someone they love very much and they’re hurting. It may seem weird to try to have compassion for those who don’t seem to be very sensitive to your feelings, but I’m telling you that there’s something to it. It helps me respond with humor or a quick explanation from my point of view without getting too heated. Or even just with the words “Merry Christmas to you and your family!” like I did when someone said that decorating our family Christmas tree with paint chips was akin to decorating it with tampon wrappers. Growing up my mom always said that above being successful, popular, or athletic (all the things I worried about so much back then), being kind was the most important thing. And that’s something I’d love to pass down to Clara. Sing it with me: all ya need is love.

So there it is. My brain dump. I hope it helps at least one or two of you out there who might be struggling with growing and having more eyes on you. I know it sounds corny, but for us this blog is just about sharing our adventures and hopefully helping you guys along the way. That’s why we make videos about grouting and cabinet painting and take so many photos and share every last detail – in the hope of helping a handful of you guys at home. And it’s also why we love sharing behind the scenes blogging stuff like this (since so many of you are fellow bloggers these days). I am completely embarrassed to admit this, but we wrote the Thank You part of our book a few weeks ago, and it wasn’t the part about our family and friends that made me cry, it was the part about you, our lovely readers. Crying isn’t even the word. It wasn’t cute. I was weeping. There was smeared mascara and a runny nose. The whole nine yards.

The enthusiasm, sweetness, and support that you folks send our way is nothing less than life-changing. I really mean that. The least we can do is crack open a little bit of ourselves in beyond-DIY posts like this from time to time (every once in a while we get the itch to overshare, like this and this along with our more recent J-Boom and $herdog posts). So lets get all sappy and share mom and dad quotes in the comments. Or any other older and wiser family member who said something while you were growing up that rings oh so true to you. My mom was also famous for saying “always wear nice underwear in case you end up in the emergency room” throughout my formative years. And let me tell you, she was right on the money about that too. It’s waaaaaaaay too embarrassing to go into, but I didn’t follow her advice and I royally regretted it. There were Care Bears involved. And I was 21. And I don’t think the doc grasped the concept of ironic underwear. I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination.

Pssst- We announced this week’s giveaway winners. Click here to see if you’re one of them.

Comments

  1. says

    I am a frequent reader but infrequent commenter – but couldn’t help saying that this is a great entry. It gives me so much respect and admiration for the two of you! You are brave to put so much of your genuine selves out there for anyone to see and respond to each day, and the way you handle negativity with humor and grace is truly inspirational. Just keep on being the real $herdog and J-Boom, because they’re pretty dang cool :)

    • Krysti says

      Another ditto for everything Julie said! You make it clear that you respect and value your readers…I hope you and John know the feeling is mutual!

    • says

      Ditto again, what Julie says.
      I think your post is a life lesson too. I’ve heard people complaining that someone hasn’t blogged for several days. That just bugs me no end. I like rapid fire blog posts (if I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t care enough to be reading in the first place) but it’s not an obligation. If you’re blogging and I’m interested, hey, lucky me. And if you’re blog that day doesn’t touch my heart, then so be it…. you didn’t owe me a thing!
      Keep on with what you do, because obviously you’re doing it right as Sherdog and J-Boom. Love you lots!

    • says

      Julie is so right! We have this little saying in my office (work in customer service), “kill them with kindness!” You two do it so well.

    • Meghan says

      I do the same thing!! I recently saw a baby t shirt at Old Navy with a Chihuahua on it and thought this would be so cute for little Clara..I said to my sister is that weird I thought of them like were real life friends? Hopefully not haha but, it would be pretty cool to be real life friends..you guys are great! xo

    • Penny says

      @Amanda, Weird, why would you think that? I saw a monkey ottoman at a store yesterday and took a picture of it for Clara…um, where did I think I was going to send it :)

  2. julie g. says

    Well said $herdog! I have never understood why people leave non-constructive negative comments. If you don’t care for a blog then don’t read it. It is as simple as that. And who want LESS Clara and Burger!?
    You and John have changed our home room by room. I only read two blogs on a regular basis and you would be amazed at how much yours has influenced our home and how we feel about it. It is more “ours” then we ever thought possible!!! So please just keep being you and doing what you’re doing.

    • Belinda says

      Agreed! Julie says it so well, I have nothing to add. Keep it up, you guys are doing an amazing job.

    • Amanda says

      So true! Your tutorials have helped my husband and I get through a bunch of projects…actually the first post I read was the one where you put your initials above your bed in your old house, and I was hooked – we copycatted your idea and put our initials above our bed as well. I love it every day, and reading your blog entries once or twice a day is seriously a highlight. Thank you so much for all of your hard work and your positive energy :-)

  3. Danielle says

    You guys are awesome! Thanks for all the how-to’s, what-not-to-do’s and all around great tips and inspiration! :)

  4. Jodi says

    Have you seen the SNL sketch about people who leave mean comments? It was when “Molly” from Mike & Molly hosted (sorry I’m spacing her real name, you can give a mean comment about that if you’d like). Check it out, you’ll laugh. Keep up the good work, I don’t have a blog but I think these are all valid points for life in general.

  5. Beth says

    Love everything about you guys and your blog. Stalk it every single day, and appreciate how you keep it real. Kudo’s.

    • Dianne says

      Ditto. Reading a blog is a choice — and in the case of Young House Love, a pleasurable choice. It is always first on my stalking list!

  6. Ashley W says

    I’m really astounded by how rude some people can be when commenting on anything. If I don’t like something (which… hasn’t happened on this blog, like, ever) I just mumble it to my computer screen and move on. It’s so weird to me that people think that their negative opinion is so important that they have to take the time to type a negative response.

    You guys keep doing what you’re doing! I love your blog and can’t wait to get your book! :)

  7. Kelly says

    am I really first??? Wow! that is a first!

    $herdog and J-boom…I love you guys. I don’t comment very often, just whenever I feel the need. I can honestly say that I don’t read every post you post either. If it doesn’t seem interesting to me, I just skip it. However, there are other posts of yours that I have read so many times that I probably have them memorized. When I am talking to IRL friends, I say, “these friends in Virginia,” like we have met and are great buds or something. All this said, those people who post negative comments, well, they can just go suck a chicken for all I or you should care. Tell them to take a hike and stay away from your blog. They aren’t forced to, like would be thrown in jail if they didn’t, read it!! Both of you just, like the Brady kids would say (are you old enough for to get this?) “keep on keep on keep on keep on…” You are awesome!

    P.S. And who cannot love gettin’ their Clara and Burger Boy fix???

  8. says

    Yeah, the negative comments are hard to forget, despite all the nice/encouraging/helpful ones. Especially when a blog is completely optional to read. And reading blogs is a FREE way to get inspiration. So even if readers don’t like everything they see, I think they should remember (just as we have to remember to let the negative comments roll off our backs) bloggers are providing them a service. Usually, I don’t care if people don’t like our house/paint colors/projects, but it does sting being criticized about parenting/my kids. No one is perfect and everything is a brief glimpse into the life of the blogger. It is very easy to be taken out of context.

    Okay, that’s my little bit. My mom always said, ‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.’ You know, that phrase has never been more true. Haha.

    • Sandra T says

      Geez, this is so true, and I had to read it myself to remember it: You are providing FREE DIY advice, inspiration, help, encouragement and ENTERTAINMENT every day! I HATE when commenters get negative (and sometimes even nasty) on a blog! What the heck? You can disagree, but you are “visiting John and Sherry’s house” to play, can’t you at least be polite and respectful that this is their space? I read Dooce.com as well as your site…and this past week has been awful over there. It’s like all the cockroaches crawled out to see the light of day! I love you guys and Clara and Burger, too! Keep on spreading your sunshine, cause this crazy world sure needs it!

  9. Anna Lisa says

    Heh, I can definitely see why people who’ve suddenly been featured on Apartment Therapy would be asking about this issue. Their commenters are completely the worst. I am one of them but I really try to only leave negative comments if I have an actual suggestion for something that would add to it. Like, “Your house is so pretty, have you ever thought about adding crown molding in the living room, I think that would really help complete the look you seem to be going for” or whatever. And even then I feel bad that it might come across as criticism. Because, like, they have clearly spent a lot more time and effort on their house than I have on mine and how is it any of my business to say it’s not good enough?

    • gk says

      just have to chime in to say that while i love AT, yes – people there can be harsh! i made the mistake of entering one of the color contests 6 years ago and i’m still kinda smarting over the person who said that my apartment looked like something out of the 80s. i clearly do not have thick enough skin to be a blogger :)

  10. Barbara says

    That’s really sweet and reminds me of advice a friend’s dad gave us in high school. We were out to dinner and the waitress was just horrible. She was rude and not helpful at all. When it came time for the check (which was hefty!) my friend’s dad left a very large tip. When asked why he rewarded such bad behavior he said, “we don’t know what kind of day she has had. She might be going through something really hard in life right now and needs something positive to happen for her. It’s my hope that this tip makes her feel better and maybe treat the next customer a little better.”
    It really touched me and has definitely changed how I react to Negative Nancys.

    Ps. I love your blog and think your family is just my kind of quirky!

    • Robin says

      I did the same once for a car that almost hit my car at Dunkin Donuts and flipped me off. Paid for her coffee and donuts. Stayed just long enough to see the look on her face and drove away.

    • Meg Smith says

      So true! When my husband and I were dating, we experienced a similiar situation with a troubling waitress. My darling husband left her a gigantic tip and oh was I appalled! His reply, “I treat others because of who I am, not who they are to me”! Right in my gut and pretty much sealed my love for him! Isn’t that just like Christ who gives when we are so undeserving! Love to you, J & S! And I love hearing about all your crazy adventures!

    • Kathy says

      LOVE this! Random acts of kindness in response to criticism. I’m going to try this the next time I encounter negativity or anger. :)

    • Hayley says

      Wow, Barbara, what a wonderful story, it gave me goosebumps too. In fact this whole thread made me teary eyed!
      I just copied this thread and saved it as a reminder.

      Sherry, your attitude toward critical people is inspirational. I hope good things will always come to you because you are always doing good things.