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Notes on criticism and praise after the social media workshops

Among my character flaws is the difficulty of accepting criticism without taking it personally. I’ve had no shortage of opportunities to practice becoming better at this; nonetheless, I have not, in fact, gotten better at it.

Another character flaw is my inability to lie, even when it would be beneficial to do so, or to “play the game.” I don’t have a high tolerance for b.s., I’ve never conformed simply for the sake of fitting in, and if I don’t agree with something, it’s almost impossible for me to play along. I’m just real, and in certain situations, that’s not particularly helpful.

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Two weeks ago, I presented three back-to-back social media workshops in three different cities in Belize. Participants included hoteliers, tour operators, small business owners, a dry cleaner, and other folks both affiliated and totally unaffiliated with the tourism industry.

The first two workshops were loads of fun. I felt like I was “on,” that the audience and I had established a pretty good rapport, and that I was sharing information and ideas that the majority of the participants would benefit from. There was give and take and a true dialogue, and when a participant didn’t agree with what I was saying, he or she would speak up and we’d have a thoughtful, respectful conversation about it. By the time I got back to my hotel in the evenings, I had a dozen or more emails, thanking me for the workshop and asking more questions. I felt great. Who doesn’t love praise?

The vibe of the third workshop was completely different. The audience’s affect felt flat, for the most part, and there wasn’t much conversation. By looking at their faces, I couldn’t tell if the participants were feeling like the workshop was a valuable use of their time; in fact, I couldn’t even tell if they were “with me.” I finished the presentation exhausted and a little disappointed, and hopped back in the car to drive back to Belize City.

Before I left, though, a woman approached me and clasped my hand in hers. She wanted to tell me that the workshop was “fantastic” and that what she loved the most was that I “admitted” I was ambivalent about Facebook. I was somewhat relieved; at least the workshop had been beneficial to her. I still didn’t know about anyone else though.

As I grabbed a snack off the coffee break table, I happened to glance at one of the participant evaluations. “Julie was NOT passionate about social media,” the feedback on the top sheet read. The handwriting even looked angry. “The fact that she said she hates Facebook means she shouldn’t be leading a social media workshop.”

It’s insane, I know, but this one guy (because, of course, I KNOW it was a guy) temporarily undid all the good mojo that had built up in the preceding two days. It didn’t matter that 30 people had emailed me to tell me I’d done a great job, that they felt like they’d turned a corner in their business, that they suddenly felt less intimidated by social media, and that they felt validated by what I’d told them… the fact that this one guy thought I was a loser, well, that left me feeling like one.

I had not, for the record, said that I hated Facebook. I said that I feel “profoundly ambivalent” about Facebook because while it is inarguably a critical social media tool for the business I’m in, the company doesn’t really respect its users and has crappy privacy policies. I suppose the guy wanted me to be a cheerleader for Facebook and the other social media we discussed; in reality, one of my primary messages was that not every social media tool works well (or at all) for everyone, AND that if using social media is going to distract you from doing what you do best (providing excellent customer service as a small business owner, which is 99% of the businesses in Belize), then don’t do it. 

Anathema, I know.

I wish I could wrap this up by saying that I’ve learned, once and for all, that not everyone is going to like me, that no one is ever going to be 100% happy with me 100% of the time. I know this, of course, but I’m clearly not truly incorporating it into my worldview, since I’m still thinking about this guy two weeks later.

What I have taken away, though, is that whenever you stand by what you believe in, even if it’s something as unimportant in the larger scheme of things as social media, there will always be people who get all twisted up about it, and that’s ok. You’ve only ever got to be confident enough in yourself and in your ideas and beliefs to stand by them.

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