Admit it. You’ve sung along. So you know that when the players gonna play and the haters gonna hate, you’re just supposed to shake, shake, shake it off.
But have you ever tried to do that? It’s really, really hard. Whoever made up the old playground adage of “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” was clearly never a target of family gossip, judgy friends, or internet trolls.
Now, there’s a big difference between constructive criticism and the judgment of haters. Constructive criticism, although negative, by definition contains ways to help you improve and grow. At its heart, constructive criticism aims to help you and is on your side. If you’re so lucky as to receive constructive criticism, learn all you can from it.
But haters are another story. True hate is unconstructive. There’s nothing in there for you. Instead, all the benefits go to the hater. Their intention is to hurt and provoke you, usually as a way to feel powerful or in control, or to put on a show to earn the admiration of others at your expense.
Some of us react to haters by getting mad, while others react by feeling hurt. Either way, it’s rough. Even when you’ve been showered with love and support, one hater can feel like a bucket of ice water thrown squarely in your face.
This week, by request from listener Melody, who asked what to do when she finds herself invalidated, unsupported, or otherwise hated on, here are X tips to deal in the moment, move forward, and yes, to shake it off.
Tip #1: Consider the source.
First, is the hater known to you? Did someone anonymous swoop in, deposit some hate like a bird over a newly-washed car, and take off? If so, like in the case of internet comments or insults shouted from moving vehicles, pay it no mind. In general, if someone won’t put their name or face behind their slander, it’s best to let it dissipate like a fart in the wind.
On the other hand, if the criticism is from someone you know and respect, as Hillary Clinton—an expert at dealing with haters—says, take it seriously, but not personally. How to do that? Try…
Tip #2: Disarm them with respect.
Haters speak in a language of disrespect, so answering with respect and aplomb both confuses them and diffuses the situation. They might even apologize.
Respect also works because haters are trying to provoke. They want a reaction—to sit back and watch the show. So when they don’t get what they’re expecting, they have to recalibrate.
Sometimes they’ll just keep on being belligerent, in which case there’s no need to engage further—you can’t get blood from a stone—but often they’ll change tactics and engage with you, turning their insults into the aforementioned constructive criticism or even some love.
This also works if you’re a business. One study examined the Facebook pages of 237 companies to determine how effectively they dealt with negative comments. Turns out experience made all the difference. Businesses newer to social media more often ignored negative posts. But the longer the companies had been active on Facebook, the more likely they were to react positively to customers’ negative posts, either by apologizing, giving an explanation, or offering a reimbursement. Yet another study found that positive reactions to negative comments actually develop stronger customer trust than no response because a positive response signals honesty.
Tip #3: Ignore it, even if you really want to explain yourself.
But what if respect is a language your hater just doesn’t speak? What if you’ve engaged politely, only to be met with more hate? Then you can ignore them.
In politics there’s a saying: “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.” Here’s why: haters make you want to defend yourself, but when you do, you legitimize them. If you don’t engage, they’re left with their venom hanging in the air. If you do engage, suddenly it’s a legitimate conversation. Worse, you’re the responder, not the initiator, which means they’re in control. In sum, if they’re throwing bombs, don’t catch them. You know what will happen if you do.
Okay, that’s all great, but let’s up the ante. What if you’ve been rejected by a whole group? What if a committee, review panel, or nine justices in Washington D.C. rule against you? How to recover from negative feedback from an entire group?
Tip #4: To shake off negative comments of a group, think of the members as all the same.
One study out of Williams College and the University of Waterloo asked participants to pretend they were an aspiring filmmaker whose work had been unanimously rejected by a panel of four judges at a film festival. Then, they were asked if it would be easier to dismiss the rejection if the panel members were “all very similar to one another” or if they were “all very different from one another.” A full 83% of participants noted it would be easier to dismiss the feedback if it came from a homogenous group than a diverse group.
This made sense: the reason it’s easier to shake off feedback from an individual than from a group is because it’s harder to dismiss an entire group as wrong or prejudiced than one single person. Feedback from multiple perspectives is harder to dismiss as unreliable.
Therefore, one strategy is to think of the group as homogenous, thereby transforming them into the equivalent of an individual. Indeed, anyone who’s dismissed a group of haters as “a bunch of idiots” has done this, albeit on a rudimentary level.
Another way to dismiss the hate is to hear what’s under it.
Tip #5: Hear what’s under the hate.
Another way to dismiss the hate is to hear what’s under it. I guarantee that underneath any non-constructive hate lies insecurity or some variation on that theme: fear, envy, powerlessness. Secure, confident people might give you constructive criticism, but they just don’t deal in hate. Grandma was right: if they’re trying to tear you down to build themselves up, there’s clearly a reason they feel the need to tear you down.
And finally, Tip #6: Remember, criticism often means you’re doing great things.
If you’ve attracted some attention and some accompanying hate, take it as a sign that you’re doing something right. Becoming the target of haters means the world is sitting up and taking notice. Success comes with a side of hate, so don’t quit. In fact, do the opposite—go bigger. Think of haters as a side effect of greatness and you’ll be able to shake it off with the best of them.