Why are creatives so bad at handling criticism?

by Jess Wilby on September 26, 2018

Any content creator, online or offline, will know that eventually one day someone will come along who dislikes your work. They'll no doubt have a personal reason that seems legitimate to them. Perhaps you've offended them or said something factually incorrect. Whatever the case, it's something that often makes them passionate enough to voice their opinion.

And in this incident your friends (and maybe fans, if you have some) will say - 'oh they're just a hater'.

They say this to soften the blow. It's a bid to support you and balance out the negativity, but actually it's not helpful at all.

Because sometimes the 'haters' are right

Not everyone who provides negative feedback is a troll or a hater. People have their opinions and often we can improve based on their constructive points, if delivered with respect. I'm not saying this to trivialize the idea of online bullying, of course not. There's a big difference between personal abuse and feedback. What I am saying is that creatives are too quick to call 'hater' when it comes to handling criticism.

I've been thinking about this a lot this week after seeing a recent upload on Youtube. I don't really want to 'name and shame' the creator, but the video was pretty disappointing. The idea behind it was amazing and the hype behind the video had been building for a few weeks, so myself and many subscribers were eagerly anticipating something great.

The video fell flat. The script was 'wish-washy' touching on multiple spiritualist platitudes, as if whoever wrote it had picked a few motivational quotes from Tumblr and smashed them all together. It had no depth and 99 other creators who submitted content failed to receive credit in the bio. Their footage had been used as if it was simple stock footage.

Whilst that's my opinion, the response in the comment section echoed similar criticism. 'I love your work but...' was a common theme, people keen to soften the blow so that they didn't get labeled as a 'hater'.

And then there were the fan replies to the comments that criticised.

'Well, can we see YOUR work?' - As if the subjective quality of someone's work legitimises their criticism.

'You're just jealous.' Which is a common retort which only ever serves to patch up the ego of those criticised.

'Don't you have anything better to do.' I loved this one in particular because everyone in the Youtube comment section goes there to waste time. So no, we don't have anything better to do but neither do you, evidently.

The thing was, none of the criticism was sent with malice. It wasn't a case of someone posting 'lol this is crap' and bouncing after a few minutes. The comments came from actual fans, who simply just wanted to share feedback. Feedback that was actually really valuable.

But not every creator sees it this way.

Ignore, confront... or use

The idea that any ounce of negativity is hate stops the flow of honesty between the creator and their audience. No longer can your audience be open about your latest project without having to pander to your ego first, or fend off wielding pitchforks from other fans - that you secretly enjoy.

It's simply easier for creatives to think 'it's just hate, that's what happens online' without considering that criticism might come from fans, friends or family. To vilify those who pose a threat to your art, is to discredit their thoughts and protect your ego. It's the best way to avoid owning up to the fact that maybe you could do a little bit better.

There's not many industries or job roles that this type of behavior will fly. For example, if you're working in retail and someone says 'Hey, could you be a little more lively when you're on the shop floor. Customers are getting a bad first impression.' What are you going to do? Are you going to be more self-aware of how customers are interacting with you or are you going to suggest your Manager is a hater, simply jealous of how much love you get from customers?

It just wouldn't happen would it?

Yet in the creative industry this reaction is standard. You could argue that's because what we do is much more personal. We've romanticised the act of film making, writing, podcasting - making any art - to the point where they are seen as a product of intense passion and an act of love. Our work feels as if it is part of us. Which maybe it is, but that doesn't make the work bulletproof. If anything it makes them more fragile.

By letting our art get so close to us, we let ourselves become vulnerable. Because by putting your own personal touch on things it doesn't just feel like people are criticising your work, it feels as if they're criticising you too.

But again, this isn't really about online trolls. This is about someone saying 'this didn't feel authentic', 'I didn't connect with the script' or 'hey, I don't think the word you used in your piece means what you think it does'. Kicking off about people wanting cleaner creation does you no favors.

Feedback is actually NOT as personal as you think it is.

You can either ignore it, confront it or use it. Either option gives you a chance to take the criticism on board or not, but only one of them closes the dialogue with your audience.

I'm not saying you have to sift through or pay attention to snarky comments online. What I am saying is that we all have room to grow and having an honest connection with your audience is one of the best learning tools you could ever cultivate.

So don't be so quick to close the door on those so-called 'haters'.


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