Friends, Critics, and Trolls

If you are a leader, you are going to attract critics. It is inevitable. In fact, if you aren’t attracting critics, you should be wondering why. Criticism is normal.Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/lisagagne, Image #650824

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/lisegagne

Why? Because real leaders upset the status quo and make people uncomfortable. As Finley Peter Dunne once said about journalists, “Our job is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” The same is true of leaders. Unfortunately, this almost always meets with resistance.

But let’s be honest: criticism hurts. At least it does for me. I’ve been in the public spotlight since my first book, The Millennium Bug, hit the New York Times bestseller list over ten years ago. Writing three more books, becoming a CEO of a large publishing company, and launching a very public blog hasn’t helped.

Theoretically, I know this is just the price you pay. But emotionally, it kills me. It always knocks me off-kilter. You might think I would be past that. But I am not. I obsess about it, spending way more time thinking about it than I should. I wish this wasn’t true, but it is. (Just ask my wife!)

One of the things that has helped me in the past few years is to distinguish between three kinds of critics:

  1. True friends. Not all criticism is bad. God forbid that we should turn a deaf ear to everyone who disagrees with us. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6). Some people are in our lives to save us from ourselves. As a leader, the trick is to create an environment that is safe for dissension, so these people can speak up.
  2. Honest critics. Some people decide that they disagree with you and go public. They aren’t malicious. They aren’t out to destroy you. They simply disagree with you. That’s okay. We need to allow for a diversity of opinion. Besides, we might learn something from it. It enriches the conversation. We need to engage these people and refrain from making it personal. Not everyone has to agree with us.
  3. Unhealthy trolls. These people have an agenda. They are out to hurt you—or at least use you for their own ends. They want to lure you into a fight. I have had three this week. They taunt and mock you. They are unreasonable. If you engage them, they will only distract you and deplete your resources. The best thing you can do is ignore them. As someone once said, “resistance only makes them stronger.” You will never satisfy them. Just keep doing what you know you are called to do.

As a leader, you must learn to distinguish between these three. I personally assume that everyone is a friend or an honest critic until they prove other otherwise. I may be naive, but I would rather give people the benefit of the doubt than live a life of paranoia. What about you?

Questions: Do you have critics? How do you respond to them? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://www.facebook.com/jdhibbard Doug Hibbard

    Good word. As a pastor, it gets pretty easy to believe that any opposition is people out to destroy me and the church, but I need to extend the grace that, first of all, people deserve. And that I'd expect to receive. Very timely post for me today.

    I'd consider that there might be a fourth type of critic/complainer: the clueless. They don't realize the destructive nature of how they handle criticism or frustration, and so make mountains out of molehills, which leaders then have to climb, tear down, and invite the criticism of how they climb mountains.

    Thanks for living enough of your life in the open that you encourage others.

    Doug

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      The "clueless" is definitely a category. They are often recruited by the trolls.

      • http://www.christianmoney.com James Paris

        Good article Michael. Maybe we just got off on the wrong foot. Any chance we can talk through our differences. Maybe you are a great guy but just have the wrong idea about me and I about you and your comments about Christian Chirp.

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

          James, you are welcome to email me: michael dot hyatt at gmail dot com. Thanks.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/PattiM PattiM

    As a leader of two groups, service organisation & church, I definitely have critics. Only those who have the courage of their principles enough to tell me directly what their issue is will get at minimum enough thought for me to decide if they have at least a bit of a point. If they do, I'll try to accommodate, if they don't, I'll tell them why I disagree and that we may have to agree to disagree. Those who do their criticising out of my earshot, get the attention they deserve, none, other than keeping an eye on them enough to determine if they are undermining the work of the group.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/jdhibbard Doug Hibbard

    Oh, and on the questions: Yes, I have critics. One of the ways I try to handle it is by separating the person from the behavior and realizing that not all trolling behaviors come from lifelong trolls.

    And then I drink coffee, check with other leadership groups in the church about the situation to make sure of my perspective.

    Doug

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I agree. It is hard to do, though!

  • http://www.austinklee.com @austinklee

    Once again, Michael, you show us why you are so successful. I am so glad you write this blog. You give away so much valuable leadership knowledge and remind us time and time again that being real is the true key to leadership.

    Glad to know I am not the only one that struggles with being tossed about by the trolls.

    I think you were in the blogger lab at Catalyst when Jon Acuff talked about how worked up he would get about horrible “anonymous” comments on his blog and how his wife would ask whether or not it was appropriate to allow that person to take over their family dinner.

    This is another great reminder that some of those people just want to antagonize and that we shouldn’t give them the right or the privilege.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I was in Jon's session at Catalyst. It was awesome. One of the things he said that was so helpful was that getting worked up about trolls is like chasing down a guy who flips you off in traffic and asking, "What did you mean by that?!" Hilarious!

      • http://twitter.com/BLichtenwalner @BLichtenwalner

        Love that analogy – thanks for sharing it – it will be reused.

  • http://evaulian-thebestoftheworst.blogspot.com/ Eva Ulian

    This is one remark which I received after posting my blog against the EU Court decision to abolish Crucifixes in schools and public places in Italy which is one of the traditions here in Italy:

    DiamonDie @EvaUlian Crucifices are extremely offensive and placing them in school is deeply disgusting and fucked up. For once justice is served.

    I have posted many times that there is no need to use the F word and should anyone continue to do so I would un-follow them. However, in this case I don’t think I should. If this lady wants to go on reading my tweets, let her, I guess she needs them!

    Even though my first reaction is to send these people- you know where- I have since realized, that one must never lose control and stoop to their level but always be polite. However that does not give anyone license to walk all over me.

    And no, for some reason, criticism does not upset me more than stepping in a puddle would.

  • http://www.omarhamada.blogspot.com Omar Hamada

    Michael,

    Thanks for this. Criticism kills. There is a difference between criticism (which destroys the soul), and admonishment (based in love). We are to encourage one another, yet hold each thought captive and hold one another accountable.

    Criticism ruins my day, as it does yours. Many critics couch their "role" as one of being the realist. Nothing could be further from the truth. Problem is, in America today we are addicted to criticism and find it entertaining and humorous – and that spills over into our daily lives, our homes, and our psyche.

    Be encouraged. Be an eagle. Don't let the critics get you down!

    Omar

  • http://www.twitter.com/danieldecker Daniel Decker

    My mom always told me, "If you're doing anything worth doing, there will always be people who try to pull you down but you can’t let them." One of my author clients also calls theses people "Energy Vampires." Those people who try to just suck the life right out of you with their negativity, envy, etc. : ) I always feel a special place in my heart for leaders, regardless of whether or not I agree with them. It's tough at the top. The higher up the ladder one climbs, the more people there are trying to grab a leg and yank them back down. Kudos to you Mike for having the self-awareness and humility to admit how it does bother you but also the resolve to stay on your path, encouraging and equipping us along the way.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I love the concept of "energy vampires." I have also heard them referred to as "emotional vampires." Regardless, you should write a blog post on this. It is a great concept.

      • http://www.twitter.com/danieldecker Daniel Decker

        Jon Gordon, the author I mentioned, has a pretty solid article recap on his thoughts along with some action steps each of us can take to neutralize those "Energy Vampires." Article link here: http://www.jongordon.com/article-noenergyvampires

  • http://www.omarhamada.com Omar Hamada

    Re your question – I, like you, initially assume each to be genuine unless I determine that they have malicious or destructive intent or a critical personality. Then I try to avoid them like the plague.

    I try to glen the good from criticism (adjustment of less than ideal behavior), but block that which only serves to destroy. But it all still hurts.

  • http://www.recoveringpentecostal.com Jenni Baier

    Great post!

    I think we all have critics, whether we're leaders or not. And I think the appropriate response is determined not just by the type of critic/criticism, but by the depth of relationship that one has or desires to have with the critic. Anonymous trolls with no direct connection to your life/ministry obviously merit no direct response… while criticism that appears to be "troll-like" from a member of your family or congregation might actually benefit from a response. Sometimes folks who have been hurt can look like "trolls" on the outside, but they don't really have it out for you. They're agenda isn't so much to tear you down as it is to build themselves up inappropriately. If you have the depth of relationship with them to look past the barbs, you might be the instrument God could use to reach them and turn them around.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      This is a good distinction. Ultimately, I think it takes experience and discernment to distinguish between the trolls and everyone else.

      It is instructive to see how Nehemiah responded to the trolls, Sanballat, Tobiah, and the other in Nehemiah.

      1. He first prayed (Nehemiah 4:4, 5).
      2. He kept his men working (Nehemiah 4:6).
      3. He kept an eye on the trolls (Nehemiah 4:9).
      4. He took reasonable precautionary measures (Nehemiah 4:13).
      5. He reminded his men of God’s greatness (Nehemiah 4:14).
      6. He refused to get distracted and just kept working (Nehemiah 4:15–20).
      7. He worked even harder (Nehemiah 4:23).

  • http://kathynicholls.com Kathy

    This is sure a timely post, as yours often are. Critics tend to really take a toll on me. I try to distinguish intent and see what I can learn from them, and yet it is tiring all the same. I think it becomes more tiring to deal with the ones who are always critical, no matter what you do. They are just energy suckers and drain you. I do appreciate feedback from friends and find value in that. Sometimes it's just hard to distinguish the difference.

    Leaders live in glass houses. And with the new way of communicating in today's world, it puts us out there in the open even more. It goes with the territory, I guess, although it can be tiring.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I agree. The Internet has given everyone a platform and a megaphone.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/tommylane tommylane

    Like you, I prefer to give the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. I learned a few years ago that it is best not to "feed the trolls." They can really get to you and some of them can really make you look like the bad guy when you fuel their flames.

    When you put yourself out there, especially on the web, as you stated, criticism is inevitable. I wish everyone would just agree to disagree but unfortunately not everyone will take that route.

    Thanks for a very factual and informative article that hits home.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I have heard that advice, "Don't feed the trolls." I think that is exactly right.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shawneda Shawneda Marks

    Good post. The attacks and "admonishments" you encounter are by products of being at the top. The fact you are still there a decade after your initial exposure to the world is a compliment to your authenticity, drive and heart to follow God's call on your life. It is also means you have people who care enough about you to pray for you consistently. Thanks for being transparent and regardless of whether your post regarding politics, bread crumbs or whatever prompted the attack you have the power to condemn it. Remember no weapons…pray for those who attack you…it's the most rewarding response because it restores the energy they may have depleted! A bigger fan of TN thanks to your transparency!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/dannyjbixby dannyjbixby

    Internet rule #1: Don't feed the trolls.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Amen!

  • http://www.ashleyweis.com Ashley Weis

    Timely post for me. Thank you! For me, this post overflowed into non-writing areas of my life too. Family issues. Yesterday I got my kids out of the car and my toddler ran off. I grabbed her in the middle of the parking lot and she lunged out of my grip again. She ran in the opposite direction. I snatched her before a car pulled out. The woman in the passenger's side of the car opened her door to tell me how bad of a mother I am, how I almost killed my kid twice, and how you can't trust young mothers with anything. She also asked why my baby didn't have socks on … he was still in the car. He takes his socks and shoes off in the car. When I picked my toddler up to get my baby out of the car, she opened the door one more time before they drove off. She huffed and said, "Unbelievable."

    I can't lie … I had serious issues loving this lady for those few minutes, but as you said in this post … the best thing you can do is ignore them.

    Thanks for this reminder.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/JeffHolton Jeffrey Holton

      Your story makes me cringe.

      I'm sure her children are all perfectly well-behaved and complacent. Yeah.

      What have I learned? I've learned that the non-rebellious child will probably never be proactive enough to exhibit skills at leadership.

      I'd know. I'm one who grew up and is struggling.

      My two children, fortunately, are like yours. We should get a playgroup together! By naptime, we'd have the business plans for at least three major corporations ready to present to venture capitalists for funding.

      :/

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fogbound fogbound

    This is a good post and so true. In pastoral ministry I always sought out someone who would be a sincere critic of my ministry and give me an honest evaluation, whether good or bad. But there were always armchair critics who liked to make criticism from a superficial perspective. And then a very few whose criticism would be malicious. I realized early that it goes with the job, but as you say, it's never easy to take. I think that over the years I have learned to handle it better. Now as I consider returning to pastoral ministry it is one of the factors I have to deal with- do I want to put myself in that place again. But where God calls, he gives the grace. I think from a public perspective you handle things very well.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I agree that you get better at this, or you ultimately retreat and give up on what God has given you to do. This is, of course, exactly what the Enemy wants us to do. If they can get us to lay down our arms without a fight, they win.

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/JimMartin JimMartin

    Yes, I have critics. The critics that I have the biggest problem with internally, Mike, are the dishonest critics. At least the honest critics are very upfront about what they think and their differences. The dishonest critic will say something complimentary about me in a meeting (often when I am present) and then turn around and say quite the opposite to his/her friends. I sometimes allow this kind of critic to sap my emotional energy. Consequently, my response to this kind of criticism is something I really have to watch.

    (I like your three categories by the way.)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I think the dishonest critic is a whole other category. These may be the most dangerous of all.

    • JustSkulking

      Try running for political office! I found that most of these delightful people really enjoyed the strategy involved in manipulating people rather than taking part in the process. At least God knows the truth.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/RachelleGardner RachelleGardner

    Whoa, Mike, I really needed to hear this today. I've had that same kind of week. I'm really bad at refraining from responding to my critics publicly! I fight myself on it all the time. Having this perspective helps. Thanks.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I know. Me, too. I am willing to defend others, but I am trying to avoid defending myself altogether. Not an easy task!

  • http://pathfromtheheadtotheheart.wordpress.com Chrystie

    A very timely post for me. I met with criticism and resistance yesterday and it knocked me off kilter as well. I spend far too much time thinking about it and fretting over it. This definitely puts a great perspective on it. Thanks for the post!

  • Linda Rue

    Thank you so much for this post Mike! Being positive about criticism has always been a challenge for me. My initial reaction in my head is almost always, "oh my, you must be right, why would I think, say or do that, oh dear" but fortunately, I've learned to pause, not speak quickly, let the critic have his/her say and when completely baffled I just say, "hmmm, thanks for bringing that to my attention. The Lord and I will get right on it and see if there are changes that He wants me to make." Working with youth and in womens ministry for almost 25 years now, that seems to be the best reaction. Thanks so much for "exposing" your weakness! I LOVE not being alone in the struggle!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I like the way my dear friend, Luci Swindoll, responds to criticism. She just says, "You might be right." That kind of takes the wind out of their sails.

  • Dan Morse

    Timely post for me as well! I was praying this morning about some of the heat i've been taking and will take over leading a much needed change in an association I belong to. I wonder how many excellent, qualified leaders are silenced before they start (think the political forum) because they know the scrutiny they'll deal with whatever their position. I don't want to be in that category!
    I found my sensitivity toward criticism is mostly because i want to be liked (high "I" and "D" on the DISC), so have to temper this with what is best for the organization. Thanks again for a great way to frame the discussion!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I think "I"s struggle with this the most. (I am a "D-I").

  • http://traceysolomon.wordpress.com tracey solomon

    “resistance only makes them stronger.” couldn't agree more with that statement.

    I see trolling (URL and IRL) as a tug of war– if you let go of the rope. the game is over. Thats what I try to do.

    excellent post.

  • http://www.john-gallagher.blogspot.com John Gallagher

    Mike, All so true. I believe how we respond to criticism has a lot to do with our persnonality profile. I do ‘trust’ first until I am given a reason not to(HIgh S in DiSC). I had a conversation with my coach at Building Champions who is the polar oppositie (High D). In any event, I don’t accept it well, but have improved in recent time. I encourage my true friends to give me constructive feedback and I get it from them and learn. I look for it from family, but seem to be more defensive with family feedback. Probably the delivery method, but I need to get better here. As far as outside critics…I TRY to ignore it, but not always easy. Thanks for sharing.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      It would be interesting to take all the DiSC profile types and understand how they respond to criticism. It might help people cope with it better!

  • http://twitter.com/BLichtenwalner @BLichtenwalner

    Spot on about the energy zapping. As a leader, you need all the energy you can get. Most trolls are anonymous. Those that are not seek traffic or other benefits at the real leader's expense.

    It's free for the troll but costs the leader his energy only if s/he gives it.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I especially detest anonymous trolls. It is such a lack of courage.

      • http://twitter.com/BarbRypkema @BarbRypkema

        I fully agree. If someone is going to lambaste an organization I am with or something I have done then they should at least have the guts to sign their name. Who knows, I may think they have valid points and want to follow up with them! Otherwise if the person doesn't care enough to sign their name then why should I care enough to take their comments seriously?

  • http://www.moonboatcafe.com Cassandra Frear

    You are right. This is part of life.

    Nothing in scripture encourages us to focus on what others have done to us and how it made us feel. Instead, my focus needs to be centered on Christ. What is God doing here? How is He working? What does He want me to do? How does He intend for me to grow through this? How can I bring Him glory? How can I help someone else in a way that brings Him joy?

    Questions like these take the limp out of my stride and put me right again.

    "Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. " (Col 3:2)

  • Jeremy

    Thank you for the post. It was a timely word for me to hear. As a Pastor, there are a few criticisms you experience. This helps me to keep it in perspective.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Laurinda Laurinda

    I don't know how I would deal with criticism if I didn't know Christ! I trust until shown differently too. I needed to read this post today. It does hurt and our natural tendency is to defend ourselves. I do believe the Holy Spirit will give us a word in due season for some folks. But walking away takes resolve. Immature leaders seek everyone's approval. But if you stand for anything, someone will criticize you. Learning to walk away from the unhealthy trolls takes effort and determination. Only as we mature will it not hurt as much – at least that's what I'm hoping for.

  • http://pursuingyahweh.net Bryan P

    Criticism is one of those things that seminaries and universities fail to teach and prepare students for life. I do blame myself for my poor handling of criticism, but I wish someone would have taught me then what I've found the hard way.

    A few years ago following a negative reaction to criticism, I spent a year pouring through Proverbs. The most common thread that spoke to me was: be quick to think and slow to speak. It is a wise concept, yet a difficult one for me to implement. God is constantly reminding me that the world, and people's comments are not always about me. There is wisdom in your encouragement to separate the words from the person. Once you make it personal, you've taken on a whole new and dangerous ball game.

    Michael, thank you for this post. Your posts on being successful in life make this my favorite blog!

    -BP

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      This should be something that seminaries cover. I'm sure it would save pastors and church leaders a lot of grief, while making them more teachable and less defensive.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/JasonWert JasonWert

    Thanks for being so honest about this. Most folks wouldn't admit it gets to them at all because it feeds the trolls.

  • http://amysorrells.wordpress.com Amy Sorrells

    One of the most amazing leaders I've ever worked for told me I'll know I'm making a difference if I'm making people mad. (The word choice was different, but same idea.) She is absolutely right. I admit harsh words from a stranger make me want to hunker down in my closet with the lights off and a gallon of ice cream. Yet more and more, I consider it a privilege to rock the waters and stand against such emotional tsunami's for Jesus. Thanks for blogging about this. Your honesty helps all of us–big leaders or small–know we're not alone in this trouble-filled journey called life. It helps all of us–or at least me–press on. Oh, and if all else fails, I just imagine the angry trolls "smelling like beef and cheese," as Elf says. That helps, too.

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  • Gordon Wong

    Michael:

    Great post!

    Criticism tends to be a delicate learning experience because it is sometimes difficult to see ‘constructive criticism’ vs. plain ‘criticism’.

    One of the greatest constructive criticism I’ve learned from was after I got fired: “..know what your strengths are, and build upon it.” That advice eventually landed me in a position with a marketing company for the next eight years in a great company (the Parable).

    Harsh criticism on the other hand will reveal how true the book of James can be: I know men, and women who had parents yell, “I wish I never had you, you’re worthless.”….find their emotional state burnt to the ground by hell’s fire (James 3:1).

    Be it your parents, or critics the old saying ‘stick and stones’ might not break bones, but it can break your heart.

  • http://halhunter.blogspot.com Hal Hunter

    Like so many words, critic has drifted from being a neutral term (able to discern, maker of reasoned judgments) to a negative term. In its true meaning, I welcome them. Feedback and advice are vital to growth and effectiveness. But, so often, we encounter not critics, but “trolls” and “energy/emotional vampires.”

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/SpenceSmith SpenceSmith

    this is such a good post. I've learned the hard way to keep the trolls in my life from opening any doors in me i don't want opened. they tend to let the whole world know my stuff…

  • http://paulgardner.info/ Paul Gardner

    Hi Michael

    I like the post but I guess my one question is…

    In a church context, does ignoring the trolls sometimes let disunity in the door? Often their criticism is done through unsuspecting and naive third parties. The troll makes the bullet and entices the innocent to fire them.

    How do you handle that as ignoring them doesn't always seem the best idea?

    God bless

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/JeffHolton Jeffrey Holton

    I don't think I take enough risks yet to merit having critics, but I'm finally learning that I should. I still take it personally when someone drops me on Facebook, present company notwithstanding. Then again, there was the time that the religion editor at Newsweek referred to me in a sidebar as a "pious adolescent." My response was to laugh. I was 27.

    Clearly, if I'm going to create inferior work, I should at least make it look like more mature inferior work.

  • http://blomerus.org Marysol

    My husband just said "Being able to relate to a sucessful professional is such a valuable tool he creates" when I read him your post.

    Thank you for this paragraph:
    <<< But emotionally, it kills me. It always knocks me off-kilter. You might think I would be past that. But I am not. I obsess about it, spending way more time thinking about it than I should. I wish this wasn’t true, but it is. (Just ask my wife!) >>>

    I didn't think someone of your caliber ALSO felt that way.

    This might have been one of the most important posts I've ever read from you.
    Marysol

  • kevin

    Great stuff. My mentor once told me to look at it this way: take criticism (which is sure to come if you are a leader) and view it through a Godly lens. How did He criticize/critique in the scriptures? He didn't make accusations or attack w/a spiteful, self-serving intent. He did it to teach and correct, in a loving (although sometimes painful) perspective. Take in criticism, wade through it and pray over it, figure out what is/isn't valid and take necessary steps to correct and improve.

  • http://www.RobinBryce.com/connect Robin Bryce

    Thank you for the honest post on this issue that leaders face. You categorized them well. I always assume they are friends or critics as well. It hurts when trolls bite. I feel even worse when I get sucked into their traps, empower them with engagement, and eventually find myself sinning. At the least, it’s a waste of my time and energy. Drained.

    Does Amazon sell Troll Drains?

  • Yetunde

    Great post!
    I definitely have my share of critics. If the Lord, who was perfect in every way, was criticized and worse – then it's not too much of a stretch to anticipate imperfect people with sin natures are going to have trouble getting along.
    We're living in times where civility is on the decline. People have all these internal turmoils, struggles, and issues they are currently dealing with. Sometimes when people are lashing out – it's not even about you. They're taking their anger out on you.
    Other times, our critics might have a valid point. There may be a grain of truth to what they're saying and we need to heed their advice. The problem is their message can be lost because of the manner of their delivery. They don't make the extra effort to say the truth in love. They are just too harsh and rude. They fail to love their neighbor as they would love themselves.

    The key is choosing to respond Biblically rather than react to them. Knee jerk reactions can make bad situations worse. When looking back, no one regrets having taken the high road.
    Blessings and have a great day!!!

  • http://www.paulwallis.net Paul Anthony Wallis

    Thanks for this post Michael. I agree that leaders need to free themselves to carefully make these distinctions and not apologise for them. John the Baptist had no compunction about identifying trolls when they turned up to his meetings. "Vipers" he called them. A "Vixen" was what Jesus caled one of his trolls. Apostle Paul named one of his to warn others – Alexander the Metalworker – and John the Beloved named one of his – Demetrius in Asia Minor. When part of a pastor's job is to protect the flock the pastor must be humble enough to embrace the honest critic while bold enough to identify trolls when necessary.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      It is interesting that Jesus was not hesitant to label people, as was his cousin, John the Baptist. Sometimes people need w wake-up call.

  • http://www.paulwallis.net Paul Anthony Wallis

    Sadly there are church organisations – I worked for one for many years – which run from the top down on an agenda of never offending anyone. Those employed by such organisations find that in the absence of bold enough leadership their churches are left to revolve around the agendas of the most aggressively dysfunctional. This is unfortunate because serving the needs of the needy and revolving around trolls are two quite different things.

    The liberty to identify trolls as such comes from first having a clear idea of what it is your organisation IS supposed to revolve around. Distilling that clear idea for a community and then unpacking together the "what then shall we do" is surely one of the central pillars of leadership.

  • http://blog.simpletruths.com Matt

    I think an overlooked critic is the one that is nice to your face but has a hidden agenda. I know some people who don't critique me at all to my face… but are all the while thinking about it. Later, when times are tense, they let those critiques come out. Or even worse, those comments are leaked to other people, and I am left thinking that everything is fine. I believe you can call these people "Yes Men", for lack of a better term, and they are very tricky!

  • http://scottmagdalein.com Scott Magdalein

    Man, do I get tired of trolls! They're negative just to get a rise out of you!

  • Liz

    I have to confess that I’m saddened by the name-calling going on in a Christian-centered blog.

    The word ‘troll’ was at one time part of literature. A character that scared the crap out of me was I was just a wee thing.

    Now it’s being used to denigrate a group of people who are emotionally troubled, have boundary issues, or who may be mentally disabled in some way. I understand that when they express their discontent in horribly perverse ways, its terribly hurtful. But that doesn’t make them trolls.

    They are in fact, children of a loving God, whether they understand that or not, or whether they disagree with that or not. Irregardless, they are your spiritual brothers and sisters. This is a relationship that is supernal in nature, a part of our spiritual heritage if you will. So, please do not refer to them as trolls. It is a perjorative term, just like moron, retard, idiot, loser etc…

    We can teach our troubled brothers and sisters in a much more loving way. Usually that can be done through the use of boundaries. And sometimes that means putting people on ignore. Sometimes that means dropping a disruptive client, and sometimes that means withdrawing from that person’s life. Each case is different.

    I know its helpful to me, when I’m faced with this kind of adversity, to think; What on earth happened in this person’s life that they are compelled to act the way they do? I can’t answer that. But I do feel immense compassion for their struggles.

    And I can control my reaction to hurtful, defamatory behavior on the part of an anonymous commenter, client, friend, whatever, by forgiving them and not judging them, not gossiping about them, and not belittling them. It also helps me to remember that the offended is more often the offender.

    The most beautiful scripture in the Bible should be taped underneath our computer so that when a rock comes through the screen and puts a dent in our forehead, we can look at it and read:

    1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. 4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. 11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Good point. I only used the term to make the the distinction. But I get your point, and it is valid. Thanks.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/MichaelSGray MichaelSGray

        With all due respect Liz, if you have been a reader of Mr. Hyatt's blog for any significant amount of time, I'm not sure you would choose to spend so much typing energy trying to split hairs over his usage of one word.

        Of all the blogs I read, Mr. Hyatt has deeply impressed me with his ability to stay above the fray. His point was not to subtly call other Christians nasty names, but to show leaders (everyone really) how to identify and positively handle different kinds of criticism.

        Somehow, calling those who criticize will apparent ill intent "troubled brothers" doesn't adequately convey the distinction.

  • http://MissionaryNatasha.net Natasha

    Sure do! LOL…I've had critics all of my life…starting with my family. Not my parents or brother…couldn't ask for better support, but the extended bunch. All of my life they've booed, hissed and tongue-lashed me to near death. When I was a little girl, I cried and took to the corner. I was angry all of the time. As I got older, I learned to ignore them. When I came to Christ, I really just learned how to stand tall in Him…not always easy of course.

    Truth be told, I am thankful for their criticism, because it has prepped me for ministry and criticism of all sorts. I'm open to the "faithful wounds of friends " as a matter of fact I love those! I realize that we have an enemy and that he uses people to crush us. It hurts, but I always try to look for God in it. When I'm hanging out with God and resting in His will, I feel most secure and He always speaks through the pain and eventually I get it.

    Thanks for sharing the post and starting this dialogue!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/patriciazell patriciazell

    One of the best ways to disarm critics is to go out of the way to be kind to them. A long time ago, I was close to a person who constantly criticized me and believe me, I cried a lot on God's shoulder. One day, He spoke to my heart these words, "You are not what that person says you are–you are my beloved daughter." Those words set me free, and my attention turned away from what the person was saying and towards how I could be kind to him/her. Our relationship changed and is still going strong and the criticism has faded away.

    One of the best responses I have to spoken criticism is to say, "I'm not a perfect person." Most of the time, the criticizer will agree with me and perhaps even smile. I also make a point of listening to what others say because I have found that God can catch my attention through criticism. I guess what that means is I am not afraid of what other people think or say about me because I am God's beloved daughter and nothing anyone says will ever change that.

  • http://gladwellmusau.wordpress.com Gladwell Musau

    Well said. I couldn't agree with you more. Thank you for your insightful thoughts.

  • http://amothersangst.blogspot.com Fran

    Feedback can be either positive (compliments) or negative (criticism). Sometimes I'm my own worst critic and, as you mention, can dwell on negative feedback. I don't mind people disagreeing with me but I've had to learn to take personal criticism (the "do better" kind of feedback). I like the way you framed the distinction between the source of the criticism as a means to calibrate our reactions.

    I've only received a few criticizing comments on my blog and they felt like personal attacks. Because the source hid behind the safety of anonymity I consider them snipers more than trolls. It was frustrating because there was no opportunity to defend myself, rebuttals are not an option when the attack is a drive-by shooting. I did a lot of soul searching and finally moved on.

    I don't want to go through life seeking only praise – it might give me a misguided sense of my place in the world. Nor do I want to put too much weight on criticism. I appreciate the balanced view you offer here.

  • http://www.reachthem2teachthem.org Amy Crawford

    Wow! Thank you for your encouragement! Your words were salve for my injured heart. Just what I needed to read today. Like you, I logically understand that with leadership comes criticism, but ouch- it leaves a mark sometimes. More than anything else, I want God to use me to make a difference in this world, but following Him means giving up comfort and security. The benefits outweigh the risks though, so I will stay the course!

  • http://www.paulwallis.net Paul Anthony Wallis

    Liz, You are quite right to point us to the need for love and compassion, but there is a reason that John the Baptist was willing to describe certain people as 'Vipers' and that Jesus was willing to identify someone as a 'Vixen'. Even the word 'troll' comes from myths which are often intended to teach people social wisdom as they grow. To be fair to Michael I think he was using the word in that kind of a way. If compassion is your only guide people with destructive agendas will suck you in to them. Sometimes we need to be wiser than that. I once worked in a chaplaincy which for years had been revolving around the needs of one very disturbed student. The chaplaincy staff shrank because the female chaplains felt so menaced by him. The chaplaincy centre had to be periodically closed to avoid his being alone with anyone in that facility. In the end, uncompassionate as it may sound, we had to take legal measures exclude him from the college campus. It is very important at times that we are both innocent as doves and as shrewd as serpents – Just as Jesus taught.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/MichaelSGray MichaelSGray

      Excellent point Paul. Jesus himself used the term "vipers" (along with other descriptive language like "whitewashed tombs") when he spoke to the Pharisees in the temple. Is this a license to name-call? Certainly not, but it does illustrate that speaking explicitly, as opposed to only speaking in sugar-coated terms, can serve a purpose — clarity.

  • http://www.roxanesalonen.blogspot.com Roxane B. Salonen

    I can't imagine any conscientious person who is not affected in some way by the critics, but I have learned to sort through the different types, as you have. The trolls definitely need to be ignored, but I'm like you also in that I assume the best in people unless they prove otherwise. Then, it's time to turn away, because toxicity is poisonous, and there's no room for that within the healthy life of simply trying to follow a calling. Great post! Thanks.

  • http://www.twitter.com/marcmillan Marc Millan

    Fantastic Leadership post. I have many of times found myself speaking out as a leader or have also see those around me uncomfortable with things that I have said or have wanted to do. It's part of leadership. I think the hidden part of all of this is integrity and character, when a leader has those things in order, just keep on walking and doing your thing, know that we all can learn something but it's part of the process.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

    I am one of the trolls… to myself.

    I am my own worst critic.

    Of course, that is a terribly self-destructive way to live but one of the big problems with it though is that, whenever I receive criticism from anyone, the critic is simply agreeing with my own self-criticism.

    This makes it very hard for me not to take the criticism to heart and let it eat me up inside.

    Thank God I haven't had too much real criticism to date!

    Great post Michael, Thank you!

  • kyle watson

    I'm not at your level in society. So I don't know if this helps. But I would only respond to those not trying to pick a fight. At your level it may benefit them to fight in public. Controversy attracts the publicity they want. People are so rude and hateful in criticism today. I would ignore those types. Its not worth it.
    I have spent a lifetime around negative criticism about everything under the sun. Here is what I do to not let it bother me. It may be too simple and not helpful. I don't know. It works for me.

    I don't take myself too serious. Somehow this seems to help a great deal.
    I don't take it personal even if it is the intention. If I do they win.
    Life is too short and will pass you bye. Let them sweat it.
    To let criticism bother you. It only hurts you and your health.
    Jesus said don't worry be happy. Not that singer dude Bobby.
    Find a private place by yourself or with someone you trust and just get silly. Clean silly of course.
    Psalm 37:4 Delight in the Lord. Focus on that verse. That's all I got, man.

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  • http://www.jonathanriggs.wordpress.com Jonathan

    Excellent word, Michael. I'm going to send this one around.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/12hourhalfday 12hourhalfday

    What is the appropriate response for each type of critic?

  • HilMc

    Thanks for this. Very timely. Learning to let things go, when to be humble ~ and if they are right, acknowledge it.

    Hopefully my blood pressure will go back to normal.

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  • http://www.graceisforsinners.com Serena Woods

    I can really identify with this! I had to go through a period of not responding to any comments for a while because it was tilting my writing. I don’t get a ton of negativity, but when I do, it’s frustrating because I’ve done my homework. The positive comments affect me, too. I like to hear them, but don’t want to be in a position of writing to get them… I’m learning to balance interaction with a healthy element of detatchment.

    Thanks for RTing this post. :)

    Serena

  • Jen

    Everyone has an agenda. Everyone has goals, hopes, dreams, desires. No one goes through life without wanting to gain something. Or even give something.

    To say that someone who wants to prove their point because they are passionate about their side of the issue is an unhealthy troll I find to be insulting. I am not your friend. I am not a troll. I am not out to hurt you. I am not acting in a malicious way. I do however disagree with you on many things. Mostly I disagree that you have my, or any writer's best interest at heart. I have the right to say so.

  • http://www.markarnold.com @jmarkarnold

    Excellent post…and one I needed to hear. Like you, I've faced critics and lately was falling into the trap of fighting with them. You are right: it is just best to ignor. Thanks for your words of wisdom.

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  • http://www.oamrhamada.com Omar Hamada

    I had to come back and re-read this as my life has been awash with critics of late – and most seem to be those closest to me. It seems there are so many willing to criticize at the drop of a hat, yet there are so few who are willing to encourage. So many willing to tear down, so few eager to build. Why is that?

    Sometimes one can't help but think, "What if they're right? What if I really am no good?". Then you just have to pick up and move on regardless.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      You should have her read The War of Art. It's a great book that will help her put this in context.

      • http://www.omarhamada.com Omar Hamada

        Thanks Michael. Will check it out.

        Who said it was a "her"? :-) (Though that is one of several).

  • http://www.glennsasscer.com Glenn Sasscer

    As a writer, especially in Christian thrillers, I have many critics who disagree with every aspect of my writing, from the way I write to the genre (How can I be a Christian and write horror or thriller novels? How dare I?). I have constructive critics who are quite helpful, clueless critics who think they are helpful, and critics who fit your category of trolls. For the first two groups, I send a thankful reply and evaluate their criticism with an honest approach – even the clueless critics hit on something useful every now and then. As for the trolls, I adopt a position where they are welcome to their opinion and it is none on my business from that point forward. Why waste time defending yourself against someone who will never listen to you?

  • http://www.idelette.com idelette

    Thank you for your transparency and wisdom. I've read this post earlier and thought is was great, but read it with fresh eyes again after this week. This is very helpful indeed. I so appreciate the way you lead.
    My recent post Do Women Not Hold up Half the Kingdom?

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  • http://katdish.net katdish

    I think you've pretty much covered it here. The "unhealthy trolls" as you call them often play both angles. They're either overly critical or overly complimentary. I'm actually more wary of the latter. It's not that I assume anyone that's nice to me wants something from me, I'm just cautious, and most folks really do turn out to genuinely nice.

  • http://twitter.com/harback @harback

    You would likely appreciate a related article by Theodore F. MacManus called "The Penalty of Leadership." It appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1915 as an advertisement for Cadillac Motor Car Company. Elvis Presley framed a copy to hang in his studio. The full text is here: http://is.gd/cMT9S

  • http://Www.monumentpublishing.com Chris Jeub

    I read this with my wife. “Gee,” she said. “You could’ve written this. You are just like this!” I’m learning the exact same thing. Great post, Mr Hyatt.

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  • http://jenniferluitwieler.com/ Jennifer Luitwieler

    I just read the first bad review of my book, and besides my friends and fellow writers, this post has been a thoughtful balm. Helped me take a deep breath and stand proud behind my work. Thanks.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Good. I am so glad. I have to come back to this same post myself when I encounter a troll!

  • Dr Tim White

    Thanks Michael for admitting that criticism still hurts. I pastor, teach, and blog, so I get my share. Your three kinds of critics is helpful. 

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