The Importance of Having a Thick Skin

Recently SEOmoz has had the pleasure of being caught in several bloggers’ scopes because of the controversy behind Rand’s Google Payola post. While much of the criticism was largely professional and constructive, some of it has been more personal and not constructive. Regardless of the type of criticism, it’s essential to react to it appropriately, especially when the Internet is essentially your workplace.

Before I delve further, let me be the first one to admit that I am a stubborn person (thanks, Kelley genes), and I’ve had my feathers ruffled a few times online. It can be difficult to respond to professionally to criticism, whether it’s constructive or a personal attack. In light of recent events, however, I’ve thought a lot about how to “temper your hubris,” as Rand often puts it, and handle the occasional negative or disagreeing remark thrown your way.

Let’s face it, a huge appeal of the Internet is its seductive anonymity (Rand had a recent Whiteboard Friday about a similar topic). You can say things to someone you wouldn’t dream of uttering in person because you’re hiding behind the warm, soft glow of your monitor. Keep this in mind when you get your feelings hurt and are furiously typing a scathing response—would you say what you’re about to type to that person face-to-face? If so, more power to ya because you’ve got quite the pair on you. If not, it might be a good idea to tone it down a bit and write a response you’d actually give in person. Lots of people avoid unnecessary conflict in person because it’s uncomfortable—keep that in mind when you’re addressing it online. Don’t exacerbate the matter or add fuel the fire if it’s unwarranted.

Someone (I forgot who, so if it was you then let me know and I can credit you) pointed me to this great writeup about how to handle criticism on the web. I recommend giving it a read. One sentence in particular stuck out to me: “The more viewers your work has, the more likely you’ll be to encounter a completely unreasonable opinion.” Indeed, the longer I’ve worked at SEOmoz, the more criticism and backlash I’ve seen directed at both me and the company. When we were the underdog we got a lot more polite encouragement. As SEOmoz became more visible and a rising authority in the industry, more and more people began to scrutinize and criticize our business decisions and blog posts. From a personal standpoint, it is pretty surprising to go from reading comments about how I’m a great addition to SEOmoz to hearing people scoff that I “don’t know anything about SEO.” But, I understand that the more visible you become, the more attention (both good and bad) you get (here is a nifty graph for you visual learners). What matters is how you react to the attention.

The important thing to remember is to not take criticism personally. Remember that constructive criticism, though it may hurt, is meant to help you, whether to be a better person, run a better business, implement a better business strategy, etc. Personal attacks are juvenile and are meant to hurt you, so don’t give those people the satisfaction of knowing they got to you and upset you. Don’t dismiss criticism, however—ignoring constructive criticism ensures you’ll make the same mistakes over and over again and run the risk of alienating those who are trying to help you, while you can take negative criticism and decide to avoid or not to do business with the offenders.

In my opinion, if you have any sort of visibility online and are sensitive to everything negative you read about you, you won’t last long in that role. Though it may sting, if you’re looking to have a positive brand and be successful on the Internet, it’s a good idea to remember when to swallow your pride and thicken up your skin.

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16 Responses to “The Importance of Having a Thick Skin”

  1. Julie Joyce says:

    Does this mean I have to stop writing things like “you suck” in comments?

    Nice to have you writing a post Rebecca. Quite a well-done and timely one as well. With the big Vegas shindig coming up, many of us will be confronted with being near people whom we may have been nasty to online. That’s not going to be a good thing.

    Seriously, SEOMoz has definitely taken some nasty criticism lately. It’s been personal and it’s been ugly and there’s simply no cause for the immaturity. We all make mistakes, and we’ve all made some massive ones. There’s really no need to keep on and on about it. You’re right though…a thick skin should be on the list of qualities needed for SEOs these days.

  2. lol Rebecca, it was actually me that pointed you to that blogpost about criticism. I sent you and Rand an email saying I thought you guys were being unfairly picked on and that I think you guys rock, so fuck em!

  3. Hahaha, how appropriate that it was you, Lisa.

    Julie, I’ve been kicking myself for not posting sooner, so I’ll try and get in the habit of posting once/week. Sorry for the hiatus! Don’t revoke my Chick status. :P

  4. Julie Joyce says:

    You have some minor other things going on (cough) like that tiny SEOMoz thing…we’re just all glad to have you writing! I’m sure everyone is sick of my talking about how cool Adam Ant is.

  5. The “Goody Two Shoes” Adam Ant?

  6. g1smd says:

    I haven’t seen anyone criticising and bad-mouthing the collective SEO Chicks yet.

    Don’t think anyone would dare!

  7. Mike says:

    Well done. I’ve not had the opportunity (thankfully) to address any negative comments on my blog as of yet, but I’ve definitely run into my fair share of similar situations within my day to day life. The best way to handle any negativity that’s far from constructive for me is a 24 hour rule if possible. If you can give yourself time to cool off and put things in perspective, it will no doubt “defuse” the situation.

    Looking forward to more great posts!

  8. Stephanie says:

    Being new to the industry I have been dealing with a lot of criticism. A lot of people have been saying “You don’t know anything about SEO.”

    Well maybe I don’t know a lot, but how is anyone supposed to learn.

    While there might be a lot of nasty people out there (and that goes for any industry).. I find there to actually be a lot of nice people in the blogosphere.

    But is has always been easier for me to talk freely with “the warm light of the computer screen”… from telling the boy in 8th grade that I had a crush on him from telling the boy in the UK that I hate his blog.

  9. Fantastic to see you blogging Rebecca!

    I agree with many commenters – you need to ignore, cool off, don’t engage and just “fu*k ‘em”. Envy is a terrible master and I’ve seen it at work where I am.

    @g1smd – and a good thing to because I know what Lisa would do and frankly I wouldn’t want to have to clean up the mess afterwards. Blood never comes out of carpets nor off walls.

    @Stephanie – I’ve been doing this since 1996 and I stillget told I don’t know what I’m doing. To take a leaf from Lisa D’s own book – “Fu*k ‘em”

  10. Julie Joyce says:

    People love to tell you that you don’t know anything about SEO when you start out. You are honestly probably reading more and paying more attention to what goes on than many of those people…so just smile nicely and think “boy will they be surprised when their brakes fail!”

    @g1smd: wow, how right you are…with a Viking at our helm, I can’t imagine anyone is that stupid. Plus, we never make ANY mistakes.

  11. g1smd says:

    I think it is the thought of the damage that can be inflicted from that very pointy two-pronged Viking headwear, as well as the de-rigeur pointy-toe shoes, that makes most people think at least twice. LOL.

  12. Yeah, I don’t really understand why people love to grumble that I don’t know anything about SEO. I’m sure a lot of other newbies get it, too. It’s pretty ignorant to make those assumptions about someone when you don’t even know what that person’s daily schedule looks like.

  13. g1smd says:

    I should point you to a forum thread somewhere, just a month or two back, where someone was trying to tell me how to implement a 301 redirect as if I had never heard about doing that before.

    I should have just posted this search and walked away: http://www.google.com/search?num=100&filter=0&q=redirect+g1smd Pffffttt!!!!!!!!

  14. g1smd says:

    At 02:08 UTC, your in-post time-stamp is saying 03:38 a.m. or so.

    Looks like the server time hasn’t been reset one hour back for the end of DST, as well as drifting off by half an hour too.

  15. Julie Joyce says:

    @g1smd: I blame Lisa. OK I don’t. Crap. Would you believe it if I said we did that intentionally to see if anyone would notice?

  16. g1smd says:

    Heh. The minutes are almost right now, but the hours are still ahead by one if that is meant to be UK time.

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