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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.

*

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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14 responses »

  1. I feel like we don’t learn how to dish out — and take — criticism in most walks of life. As a writer who works with editors, you’ve learned that all that red ink is really meant to make your work better, though as a person who’s been handed a real bloodbath, I know how hard it can be to see all that markup.

    I went to art school, it was always excruciating when we’d prop our work up in front of the class. But I learned that I needed to be able to defend my choices. I didn’t expect everyone to like my stuff, that was liberating, but it was still hard to hear that my work looked unfinished or some other thing. Still, I had to be able to stand behind my work, and that if I didn’t, it was a mistake to share it with the class.

    Or the world. FWIW, etc.

    Thinky. Thank you.

    Reply
    • papertrail23

      Pam-

      You’re so right, and intellectually, I do know all this. Why, though, is it still so hard for me emotionally? Why haven’t I toughened up?

      Reply
  2. I’ve learned so much about this. In our industry it’s such a major point because so much of our work is under a microscope. I’ve really come to grips in the last year on this. I had something similar happen to me in which they didn’t like how I responded to them, so they blocked me out of all facets of their life. I didn’t confront them and don’t feel the need to. I did what was right and I stand by that. Decisions, big or small, always mean someone isn’t going to be happy; but I would rather make the decisions that I stand by and help me sleep at night that piss a lot of people off, than give in to please people and not feel confidant about my decision.

    Great read Julie. Always love the honesty and some good reminders.

    Reply
  3. Well, it’s truly unfortunate that this guy didn’t have the courage to raise the issue during the session! it would have allowed more of that respectful debate. Instead, he felt the need to scribble it anonymously on a piece of paper, and for that, you should remember the source, and try not to let him suck all that great energy out of you. (easier said than done, I know!!)

    Reply
  4. I love you mentioning a dry cleaner at your workshop because I was once presenting at a linguistics conference in Laos where people just wandered in off the streets to hear what these “international experts” (ha!) had to say. In my mind I’m like, {Quick! Think how I can include this kebeb seller on second language acquisition theory}.

    This scenario is close to my heart as I will happily ignore a stack of good feedback and stress over the one bad one for months, nay, years on end (not constantly, but that stuff does find a way of coming to mind down the track). I used to spend hours trying to plan a lesson that would please that one unhappy student and be totally stressed out about it before someone would point out, like a slap in the face, that there are actually 15 happy students in the class. Usually their unhappiness is nothing to do with you or what you’ve said, anyway. But it still feels personal.

    It sounds like this person was disagreeing with, what he thought was, your opinion on FB. Obviously he didn’t get what you were saying, but at least he wasn’t criticising your preparedness for the workshop or something else more crucial. The only thing I could think would be if you didn’t make it clear enough that you were only stating your opinion, but that wouldn’t make sense since none of the other participants had the same criticism. I guess all you can do is know that we have all been there and totally relate to how you are feeling. And, god, it’s only Facebook.

    Reply
  5. Great read Julie, I like the honesty.

    We humans have this problem of forgetting all the good to focus on that little tiny bad negative element.
    I have the same problem too which often stops me dead on my tracks and I need to struggle hard to find back my motivation.
    I guess one solution would simply be to go back to all the positive mail and reread them again until the bad is forgotten.

    Reply
  6. Julie,
    Just be yourself. You can’t win ’em all and you shouldn’t even try to. I would say that you’re one of the best social media users I know. The fact that you prefer some venues (Twitter) over others (Facebook) shows that you’ve tried them and know what you’re talking about.

    Reply
  7. WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T LIKE FACEBOOK?!

    When I was tour leading, at the end of each tour the passengers filled out an evaluation form. A big part of that was about the tour leader, and we were graded, from one to five, on: enthusiasm, professionalism, knowledge, and efficiency (I think; something like that). It was the part of the job we all hated most – a psych evaluation every two weeks or so that we’d have to then discuss with our boss.

    You’re right – one bad apple spoils the whole lot, which is a real shame. And a lot of the time – and I suspect this applies to a lot of evaluations, such as at school or wherever – we were really being judged based on whether someone liked us or not.

    That plus constant the constant cycle of hello-goodbye = thick skin, but it did take time.

    Great, honest post, thanks.

    Reply
  8. Really enjoyed this post. I HATE rejection (probably more than you hate Facebook…kidding!) but, like Pam, there have been times when I’ve found it turned out to be a good thing for two reasons: constructive criticism and what I call “roundabout” ways. Since this guy wasn’t really listening to you, he isn’t providing valuable feedback (sad that you might be giving more thought to his one sentence than he did to your entire presentation). But the “roundabout” effect could be that you defend or touch more clearly on the point he was confused about in your next presentation which leads someone else to appreciate your genuineness (vs being a social media cheerleader) which leads to more presentations, etc.

    When I think about the times I’ve been criticized, it’s made me want to prove myself even more, and that post-rejection fire is something that people recognize. As much as I’d like to be “the best I can be” all the time, sometimes it takes that one negative comment to make me step up it again.

    Reply
  9. Haaaa. I definitely feel and understand you and like you said, it’s so much easier to say than to do. All you can really do is be yourself.

    I personally ignore all criticism that doesn’t sound constructive. If they’re not providing solutions along with their feedback, then they’re just being vindictive for the sake of it and are not worth my energy.

    I also take constructive criticism seriously too. In an effort to be the best I can be personally, I need to work on improving my work or aspects of myself that might negatively impact others.

    Reply
  10. Love this post Julie. And all I can say is, me too! I have a hard time swallowing criticism and tend to take it personally. I try to remember and tell myself that not everyone is going to like my work, but I think there’s a certain vulnerability that comes with exposing one’s writings and photographs. Not everyone will love it, for sure. And unfortunately, not everyone has the tact to express what they don’t like in a respectful manner (and to one’s face). So all you can do is just be yourself, and not let this type of negative feedback steal your joy…:)

    Reply
  11. Hi, Veronica-

    Thanks for visiting and for the thoughtful comment.
    I think what’s tough for me is taking criticism when I think it’s unfounded, mean-spirited, or just uninformed. If I know that it’s constructive, it may sting (What? I’m not perfect?!– kidding), but at least I know that it’s intended to help me grow and improve.

    Reply

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