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After the Jump: Dealing with Negativity Online

by Grace Bonney

In the creative community, and in pretty much every other community, every new project these days seems to have an online component. Whether you’re launching a new web shop or putting a new book out into the world, you’re going to need to announce, promote or communicate through the digital channels we all know and love, from Instagram and Pinterest to online magazines, newspapers and even podcasts.

One of the topics I used to discuss the most with people in the creative community was promotion, but these days it’s more about handling the responses that come from promotion. In an ideal world, those responses would be nothing but virtual high fives, cheers and pats on the back. But in the real world, they’re mixed. No matter who you are and where you live, if you have the courage to put something out there, people are going to disagree, and have an opinion about it.

And here’s the thing – your voice and your project deserve to be a part of the chorus of voices that exist online. Letting your voice be silenced by a few bad apples is a sad thing, and something that can and should be prevented. So for today’s show I’m tackling a topic that can be somewhat scary: How to handle negativity online. From finding compassion and empathy for negative commenters to my trusted system for dealing with negative comments, this show is for anyone who’s ever struggled with how to handle all the “haters” that live online. Whether you’re new to negativity online or a seasoned pro, there’s something in here for all of us. Thanks so much to everyone for listening and feel free to leave your requests for this season’s shows in the comment section below! xo, grace

*When it doubt, just shake it off like Taylor.


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  • When the “dun, dun, duuuuuun!” sound effect came on I jumped out of my seat! But then I laughed. : )

    Love the show and love your insights. Would be excited to hear a show with you – or others – on prosperity. When you felt you really made it. Or had reached a big goal and how you rewarded yourself. Maybe even how you think about abundance!

    Again – thanks for the program. It’s must listen radio for me each week.

    • thanks aleysa!

      sorry if the effect was a little too much, i couldn’t resist it ;)

      i don’t personally feel i’ve “made it”, but i’ll have a think about it and see if there’s a way i could find others who do feel they’ve made it so we can learn from those moments, too :)


  • My other favorite blog, YHL, is taking a break, and while they feel off themselves, this seemed so appropriate, considering their interaction with their readers and comments. I always try and be positive and leave positive feedback, because I appreciate the blogs I read and how willing blog-writers are to put their thoughts out there…so to the D*S team, thank you! Thank you for all of your advice, articles, thoughts, opinions, always delivered with class and always inspirational. :)

    Also, I don’t feel like anyone feels like they’ve made it, but maybe there are moments when you’ve felt like you’ve gotten further (ex. moments you felt validated to have quit your other jobs for D*S full time, or completing your book). Instead of focusing on “made it” maybe “big goal, what’s next?”

    Also, I am not a designer, or a member of the design community, just an avid lover of design and blogs and start ups. I’d love an episode about things listeners/readers/non-community members can do to help support the communities we love!! (creative support ideas are welcome, not just financial…i.e. is clicking on sponsors helpful? what kind of feedback do communities like? there are so many local/small online shops, how do you pick? etc.) I’d love your opinion. Also, an update on sponsorship/corporate online community, maybe a follow up from last November’s episode. And also, I’d love an update to your inspiration episode.

    Long comment, oops!

  • I am eager to listen to this Grace – I was so impressed by your dealing with a very crotchedty (and I thought wrong) commenter the other day in a Biz Ladies response. You were so gracious, but also called out her unprofessionalism. It is daunting, to be criticized by a stranger, and often the voices are so harsh. Thank you for always thinking up new things to bring to DS and for being brave. And for going to Maira Kalman’s house!

  • Great talk, Grace! Thank you for the time it took to put together a very informative talk on handling negativity. It seems like such a basic concept, but it is one that people have to learn and/or re-learn. This talk reminded me a lot of emotional intelligence education. I have enjoyed your blog from the early Blogger days. It takes a lot of hard work and consistency to create what you have here and not everyone understands the incredible amount of patience, intelligence, and grit it takes to get where you are now with Design Sponge. Thanks again!

  • What a great show! It is good to hear a first hand account of how you deal with negative and unkind comments. After the jump has become one of my favorite resources. I love how open you are about your professional experiences both good and bad. Thank you for all the brave things you post.

  • Hi Grace,

    I’ve been following your blog for a while but this is the first time I have listened to after the jump! First comment: it made doing my post-dinner dishes so much more enjoyable, I might just have to make that a routine. :) Second comment: this resonated with me so much, and I don’t work in the design world or blogosphere, but like most people these days, I do spend a lot of my work day on email. I kept thinking about the nasty emails I have gotten from clients about their urgent requests or complaints or gripes and how useful it is to read them, take a step back, try to figure out where they’re coming from, and send back a response that rises above their level. I need to remind myself to do this more because it’s an everyday. An after the jump about email etiquette and dealing with difficult e-correspondence between coworkers, clients, etc. would also be a great topic!

  • I think there needs to be a clearer distinction between negativity and dissent. Dissent at it’s base means to differ in opinion. That in and of itself is not necessarily a negative thing. In fact, I think it can be quite positive and illuminating process much more so than the fans and cheerleaders. Not everyone is the best writer so sometimes it’s hard to read between the lines and see the constructiveness of every criticism but I think it’s vital for growth. You talked a lot about having compassion but that seemed to be more of a defense technique that I’m not sure should be the main focus.

    Overall, I think the ultimate goal of online discourse (trolls need not apply) is to gain enlightenment on a new perspective or discover some truth in the dissenting opinion and grow. Getting what you want from the person should not enter this process because I really think it’s a disservice to learning new things and also setting yourself up for failure as often times things are out of your control. Control is another issue that seemed to play in your discussion about “negativity”. Instead of it centering around controlling yourself, you only touched on controlling the situation or the commenter.

    I basically deal with criticism for a living and of the citizen variety so I experience a full range. My advice (for anyone) in terms of not getting hurt feelings is to realize that no matter what that person says they can’t control how you see yourself and your actions. You control that. In the moment, I do my best to focus on the bigger picture of what they are saying which at times can be tough because they could literally say something like “YOU are…” Asking questions is good. Get as much information as you can so you can talk on the subject and not defend yourself. Also, people like to feel heard. Acknowledge that you heard them and state the truth that you’ve drawn from their statement. And it being online, take sometime. When you think you are ready to answer wait one more hour or 30 more minutes. Try to get to a calmer place. Feelings will still exist but when you are calmer you’ll be clearer in your communication and focused. Lastly, not all comments are equal or need a response. Vitriol does not need to be addressed and letting it hang there does not mean you are tolerating that behavior. Quite the contrary in fact. It means you don’t entertain it and it doesn’t matter. The beauty of online is that it is public and your supporters will most likely say something and you NOT saying something shows tact and restraint. If you feel compelled to reply to rude and useless comments, be brief, firm and even terse. Example; “I’m sorry you feel that way and your opinions have been noted”. I don’t like non-apologies but if you are ever going to use one, using it on a rude and abusive comment is the time. The fewer words you give them the less fodder and also shows the little time you had to entertain them while still appearing tactful.

    I hope the above proves useful to some readers. And thank you, Grace, for creating interesting and discussion worthy content.

    • thank you for such good advice! i’ve owned a cafe for over a decade (since before social media ruled the world!) and while the majority of online reviews are heartwarming, occasionally we’ve received [arguably deserved] middling reviews for missteps on our part, or truly nasty ones full of personal attacks. often i will leave a long, carefully worded response to apologize &/or explain the nuance to other readers, but i can say freely that doing so is literally the worst part of my job. Your points about letting the truly nasty just hang or leaving a quick “nonapology” type reply both are sound approaches.

  • Great podcast Grace!
    Yes, there is a whole lot of ugly going on and I am so happy you talked about it!
    As an interior designer reading daily negative comments on social media pages about my work or other designer’s published work, we do not ask to be judged “yay” or “nay” but the design blog/publication does. Our work becomes the tool to get commented on.
    We sit back with our hands over our mouths reading the ugly comments.
    I just wish someone would sit on the hands of the ugly readers.
    Or let them post their home and their design sensibilities so that we can comment too.
    It’s only fair..
    Love the IP address info ! Terrific!

  • I just came across your post in my facebook feed, after reading a similar post from Country Living. This seems to be a theme these days. If so many readers of so many different venues are so dissatisfied with the design being presented, might require a bit of self examination on the part of the design community. Of course, it may be indicative of other societal issues and bad design is just an easy target for venting larger frustrations. Can’t talk about politics or religion without all holy hell breaking loose, so now we just bash on each others houses. I don’t know, you decide. Lol!!

  • This came at just the perfect time. I recently became aware of a horrible website that is all about ripping bloggers apart. As I waded through a few threads I was having anxiety at the prospect of starting a new blog. I won’t be returning there. What a waste of energy. Now I’m armed with the tools I will need for any negative comments I may receive. Thank you!

    • michele

      i know which site you’re hinting at and i can say from experience- stay away from those forums. when people gather for the sole purpose of ripping other people apart, no good can come of that.