How to respond to criticism?

I sure haven’t figured out how to respond to criticism. I’ve made my worst mistakes when I don’t listen to it, though, and understand it. This post is prompted by Ewan Mcintosh’s post about Loic Lemur and the big blowup this week at Le Web conference. Ewan writes an excellent blog about how he’s using social media in Scottish schools.

Yesterday we were presenting to a bunch of executives and employees at Intel. It was a big thrill for me to be there. Yesterday was my “blog birthday” — I started writing a blog on December 15, 2000. Unfortunately we can’t look at the first year’s worth of posts.

One exec came up to me afterward and said something like “I was impressed with you because you were listening to us.” He said he noticed I even adopted the Intel language in my answers and changed strategy based on answers we were getting.

I have to credit Amazon’s CTO, Werner Vogels, for teaching me to do that. When you’re hearing objections you’ve really got to get into their shoes and think about how things look from their perspective. It’s not something I do well on my blog. But then I don’t need to be obsequious when I’m blogging — this is my chance to say how the world looks to me.

Anyway, at one point the Intel folks started having a fascinating conversation about listening. I wish I could present it here, but can’t. Let’s just say that Intel is realizing that the real benefits of social media is that it presents an opportunity to listen to what everyone is thinking, feeling, saying about your company and your products.

How many company employees put their product names into a blog search engine and watch what people say? Or, even better, what they are saying about their competitors?

A culture change is coming to corporations. Even ones that are “anti-blog” can use social media to listen.

What would I have done if I were Loic?

I wouldn’t have called bloggers names, even if they are really jerks. I wouldn’t have stood up and said “I’d do it again” on the closing speech. Neither of those demonstrated listening behavior.

And, as Ewan points out, I wouldn’t be quiet when almost the entire blog world (which is who his conference serves, so he should care about it) is against him.

At minimum I would have linked to all of those critics, along with the few that supported him.

When you’re in the middle of a firestorm I’d link to EVERYTHING that moves. That demonstrates, at minimum, that he read and saw every post even if he doesn’t agree.

Then I’d demonstrate listening behavior. What did he learn? How is he changing? What will he do differently next time?

But, what does the silence tell us? That he’s not listening. Not learning. Not participating. Not engaging.

On the other hand, I’m sad to see Loic go through this firestorm of criticism. I’m sure it must be very tough. Last year at Le Blog 2 we had an awesome time and he was a gracious and fun host.

Maryam, who has put on many events in her life (she’s a professional event planner), both big and small, has advice of her own to Loic. It’s sound advice. We’ve been there before with angry customers who didn’t get what they wanted from the event that they spent good money to attend and that advice has helped turn many irate customers around into loyal customers.

Really, I guess the advice that I’m giving myself is when you do things for audiences (or, really, if you’re going to be successful at business) you’ve got to be adept at listening.

If I ever demonstrate I’m not listening, kick me under the table, OK? 🙂

UPDATE: Loic just posted some more on his thoughts of the week.

UPDATE 2: Tom Morris has some good advice for conference organizers.

40 thoughts on “How to respond to criticism?

  1. Great post Robert. Being in my own firestorm recently, it does pay to actually understand why the fire is so hot and where it’s coming from. My thoughts are that Loic is listening, but since he may not agree with the criticism his thought is be silent. The saw about not saying anything if you have nothing nice to say. That of course is the wrong approach. My advice would be to have someone else not emotionally charged with the criticism tell us what is on the mind of Loic and the company. I have done this before when I have felt too connected to something where I might not be focused on the task but perhaps more focused on calling people names.

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  2. Great post Robert. Being in my own firestorm recently, it does pay to actually understand why the fire is so hot and where it’s coming from. My thoughts are that Loic is listening, but since he may not agree with the criticism his thought is be silent. The saw about not saying anything if you have nothing nice to say. That of course is the wrong approach. My advice would be to have someone else not emotionally charged with the criticism tell us what is on the mind of Loic and the company. I have done this before when I have felt too connected to something where I might not be focused on the task but perhaps more focused on calling people names.

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  3. Hi Robert
    Great post but thats not why I am commenting. In my feed reader (google reader) you bolg still has the title line ” from Scobleizer – Microsoft Geek Blogger”.
    Just thought you would want to know.

    Sorry for being so dull.

    Irelandshope

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  4. Hi Robert
    Great post but thats not why I am commenting. In my feed reader (google reader) you bolg still has the title line ” from Scobleizer – Microsoft Geek Blogger”.
    Just thought you would want to know.

    Sorry for being so dull.

    Irelandshope

    Like

  5. Hi Robert,

    Lately I commented on one of my favorite blogs. The Blogger asked his readership to critisize a part of his work. I was very happy to share my thoughts on the subject since this was something I wanted to say to him for a long time, but I was a bit shy about it. I wrote my comment and eagrly waited for a response. And waited…and waited…and waited (you get the point). I was very disappointed and will probably not comment on that blog again for a while.

    The bottom line…if you get critisized on your blog…Respond! that why you keep your readership.

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  6. Hi Robert,

    Lately I commented on one of my favorite blogs. The Blogger asked his readership to critisize a part of his work. I was very happy to share my thoughts on the subject since this was something I wanted to say to him for a long time, but I was a bit shy about it. I wrote my comment and eagrly waited for a response. And waited…and waited…and waited (you get the point). I was very disappointed and will probably not comment on that blog again for a while.

    The bottom line…if you get critisized on your blog…Respond! that why you keep your readership.

    Like

  7. That did the trick Robert.
    Sorry for being an a**hole.

    Hey are you going to put a video up of the ScreencastsOnline Guy from the UK. He had it all over his site and then it didnt show and he is a little embarrassed.

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  8. That did the trick Robert.
    Sorry for being an a**hole.

    Hey are you going to put a video up of the ScreencastsOnline Guy from the UK. He had it all over his site and then it didnt show and he is a little embarrassed.

    Like

  9. When I worked at Intel the mindset was one of such arrogance that the corporation didn’t listen to ANYONE. It regularly took production lines down in the auto industry by shipping late, and didn’t even seem to care. This mindset, which freaked me out and which was why I didn’t fit in and left probably moments before they fired me, is responsible for Intel’s current problems.
    I’m sure the individuals you spoke to weren’t there when I was (ten years ago), or have learned something since then. I was stunned by the unwillingness of Intel to engage in real dialogue with customers: I was in the PR world, and we “managed” the press. I’m delighted to hear that has changed.

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  10. When I worked at Intel the mindset was one of such arrogance that the corporation didn’t listen to ANYONE. It regularly took production lines down in the auto industry by shipping late, and didn’t even seem to care. This mindset, which freaked me out and which was why I didn’t fit in and left probably moments before they fired me, is responsible for Intel’s current problems.
    I’m sure the individuals you spoke to weren’t there when I was (ten years ago), or have learned something since then. I was stunned by the unwillingness of Intel to engage in real dialogue with customers: I was in the PR world, and we “managed” the press. I’m delighted to hear that has changed.

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  11. Worth pointing out that Loic has (kind of) responded, although it’s unhealthily defensive. His co-organising pal Ouriel has also posted but has done so in an way which only panders to the kind of “you say tomato” debate that gets things nowhere:

    http://ouriel.typepad.com/myblog/2006/12/leweb3_was_a_su.html

    (though he has also accepted that ‘two stars and a wish’ is sometimes better than feeling you have to take a stance).

    Interesting case study for the next book, Robert 😉

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  12. Worth pointing out that Loic has (kind of) responded, although it’s unhealthily defensive. His co-organising pal Ouriel has also posted but has done so in an way which only panders to the kind of “you say tomato” debate that gets things nowhere:

    http://ouriel.typepad.com/myblog/2006/12/leweb3_was_a_su.html

    (though he has also accepted that ‘two stars and a wish’ is sometimes better than feeling you have to take a stance).

    Interesting case study for the next book, Robert 😉

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  13. The irony of the situation is multiplied an infinite amount when you consider the fact that Loïc Le Meur is an executive at Six Apart. Sorry, but this only proves that Loïc and friends don’t eat their own dogfood. They’re perfectly happy to sell conversational media to other companies in the form of blogging software like Movable Type, but aren’t willing to take part in the conversation they are selling to their customers.

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  14. The irony of the situation is multiplied an infinite amount when you consider the fact that Loïc Le Meur is an executive at Six Apart. Sorry, but this only proves that Loïc and friends don’t eat their own dogfood. They’re perfectly happy to sell conversational media to other companies in the form of blogging software like Movable Type, but aren’t willing to take part in the conversation they are selling to their customers.

    Like

  15. I think it’s actually more than mere listening: it is the ability to receive feedback and act on it. IMHO the main issue is one of consistency: the “online community” has values, rules and codes of behavior that it does not like to see violated. As Tom’s comment shows, Loic’s main mistake is one of lack of consistency: claiming one thing (conversations, openness, fairness, participation, inclusive approach, meritocracy…) and doing or allowing almost the extreme opposite (monologue, manipulation, exclusion…)

    I guess the key question is how do we make sure a conference of this type continues to be organized in Europe with a better level of quality.

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  16. I think it’s actually more than mere listening: it is the ability to receive feedback and act on it. IMHO the main issue is one of consistency: the “online community” has values, rules and codes of behavior that it does not like to see violated. As Tom’s comment shows, Loic’s main mistake is one of lack of consistency: claiming one thing (conversations, openness, fairness, participation, inclusive approach, meritocracy…) and doing or allowing almost the extreme opposite (monologue, manipulation, exclusion…)

    I guess the key question is how do we make sure a conference of this type continues to be organized in Europe with a better level of quality.

    Like

  17. Hey Robert, It’s that ScreenCastsOnline guy from the UK! I was going to email your directly but heck, I thought I’d post the comment.

    It’s with respect to Irelandshopes recent comment about the no-show (yet!) of the ScreenCastsOnline segment we recorded when you were over in London.

    I’m sure he was acting with the best of intentions but just to put the record straight:

    1 – It’s not all over my site 🙂 I made a reference to the interview in my blog

    http://blog.screencastsonline.com/scoblog/?p=139

    and also in the ScreenCastsOnline Forum

    2 – I’m not embarrassed in the slightest in the no-show as yet! The posts I made have attracted a lot of interest from my regular viewers who probably just want to see my ugly mug in front of the camera for a change. The usual ScreenCastsOnline show is most definitely just the Mac Desktop (strictly screencasts only!) and I have managed to remain off screen for the best part of 80 shows.

    I’ve just been telling people it’s not been posted yet with assorted comments about hopefully not been left on the virtual cutting room floor, breaking the camera!, etc.

    I fully appreciate that you have a full and busy schedule and that you’d slot in the segment, whenever you could. So no worries from my end!

    One of the benefits of having a show like the Scoble Show (and in fact ScreenCastsOnline) is that the flexibility and total control you have over what is shown and when. It allows you to be responsive and release material when it’s appropriate ensuring that you’re not constrained by any future schedule. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

    Looking forward to seeing the final results.

    Cheers
    Don

    Like

  18. Hey Robert, It’s that ScreenCastsOnline guy from the UK! I was going to email your directly but heck, I thought I’d post the comment.

    It’s with respect to Irelandshopes recent comment about the no-show (yet!) of the ScreenCastsOnline segment we recorded when you were over in London.

    I’m sure he was acting with the best of intentions but just to put the record straight:

    1 – It’s not all over my site 🙂 I made a reference to the interview in my blog

    http://blog.screencastsonline.com/scoblog/?p=139

    and also in the ScreenCastsOnline Forum

    2 – I’m not embarrassed in the slightest in the no-show as yet! The posts I made have attracted a lot of interest from my regular viewers who probably just want to see my ugly mug in front of the camera for a change. The usual ScreenCastsOnline show is most definitely just the Mac Desktop (strictly screencasts only!) and I have managed to remain off screen for the best part of 80 shows.

    I’ve just been telling people it’s not been posted yet with assorted comments about hopefully not been left on the virtual cutting room floor, breaking the camera!, etc.

    I fully appreciate that you have a full and busy schedule and that you’d slot in the segment, whenever you could. So no worries from my end!

    One of the benefits of having a show like the Scoble Show (and in fact ScreenCastsOnline) is that the flexibility and total control you have over what is shown and when. It allows you to be responsive and release material when it’s appropriate ensuring that you’re not constrained by any future schedule. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

    Looking forward to seeing the final results.

    Cheers
    Don

    Like

  19. I’m sure the Intel guys mentioned the Pentium Bug debacle. I often tell people about this when I’m explaining about blogs and communities. In short, the issue with the Pentium bug was that Intel wouldn’t acknowledge there was a possible problem. The community got pretty annoyed with this, to the point where it was doing damage to Intel’s sales and reputation. Then Intel acknowledged the bug and offered to replace chips for anyone who had an issue. The community was happy and hardly anybody sent back their chip for replacement (although they knew they could if they needed to).

    Like

  20. I’m sure the Intel guys mentioned the Pentium Bug debacle. I often tell people about this when I’m explaining about blogs and communities. In short, the issue with the Pentium bug was that Intel wouldn’t acknowledge there was a possible problem. The community got pretty annoyed with this, to the point where it was doing damage to Intel’s sales and reputation. Then Intel acknowledged the bug and offered to replace chips for anyone who had an issue. The community was happy and hardly anybody sent back their chip for replacement (although they knew they could if they needed to).

    Like

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