Fight Fire with Kindness: How to Respond to Mean Customers Online

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You don’t have to use social media long to see one of its biggest drawbacks—hiding behind computers often gives people more courage to be mean. Anonymous readers can leave hateful, hurtful words in blog comments or on social media, and you may be left wondering how to respond.

Have you wrestled with this? If so, listen up: While it may be tempting to fight fire with fire, fighting fire with kindness gets you farther in the long run.

How to Respond with Kindness

Here are some tips for responding to online feedback with grace:

Wait

With the immediacy of the Internet, online conversations happen fast—but that’s not always a good thing. When you respond to harsh words in the heat of the moment, you are more likely to say something you’ll regret. So instead of writing back that instant, take your time. Think about it for a few hours or a few days and get some space from the situation. This provides valuable perspective to temper what you say.

Don’t Make It Personal

It’s easy to feel attacked when a commenter throws some harsh accusation or criticism at your work, especially if that criticism is untrue. You may want to defend yourself. You may want to attack back in response. But try to remind yourself the attack isn’t personal. What the commenter is writing is less about you and more about him or her. Learning to deflect the words helps you respond rationally.

Consider the Criticism

Even when criticism comes from an unkind source, try to step back and consider if there’s any truth to what’s being said. So maybe it’s not all true, but is it partly true? Does the comment hit at something your company or website truly does need to improve? If so, that mean commenter could be, indirectly, doing you a favor: pointing out an area where you need to grow. Consider what needs to change, and use it to improve your work.

Thank Them

If there is a measure of truth to the criticism, thank the commenter for pointing it out. Don’t call him or her a jerk. Don’t attack back. Say something kind that promotes peace and goodwill such as, “You are right that a typo appeared in the first paragraph. Thank you for letting us know! We have edited it now.”

Remember Who’s Watching

Remind yourself that responding to a mean comment is always about more than just the commenter; it’s about everyone who reads your blog and who sees what you say. If you respond harshly to that harsh person, you’re the one who ends up looking mean. So even if the commenter doesn’t deserve it, speak kindly in your response to show yourself as approachable and rational.

When Not to Respond with Kindness

Generally speaking, fighting harsh comments with kindness makes sense, but that’s not true for every situation. Some commenters leave you no choice but to delete their comments or ignore their attacks. Here are situations where you wouldn’t want to waste your time formulating a thoughtful response:

  • Vulgar language
  • Expletives
  • Aggressive, belligerent behavior (i.e., excessive comments, repeated attacks)
  • Spam or self-promotion

What are your thoughts? Have you dealt with sharp comments online, and, if so, how did you respond? Have you seen interactions between other bloggers and their audience, and what did those responses show you?

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