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To Reply Or Not To Reply

You can’t post anything online these days without someone attacking it. It doesn’t matter what it is. A while ago my wife posted a photo of a smiling family from our dojo putting on white belts for the first time. You’d think that would be immune. A happy family starting a new adventure together. Nope. There is always someone waiting by a screen to criticize.

Mr. Hayes always tells us to ‘be above the fray’ when dealing with harsh criticism, angry opinions, or outright trolls. But I was asked recently how to balance that with deciding you have something important to say or deciding you need to stand up to a bully. Here is my method for deciding if and when to respond. It sounds more clinical than it is. Rarely do I spend more than twenty seconds going through this list.

  1. Does the criticism have merit?
    I take a moment to assess if there is any truth in what was said. Unless it is a crass comment or blatant insult, I always look to myself first. I never want my ego or emotions to get in the way of my growth. If I decide the criticism has merit or I’m not sure I explore further. If I’m stuck, I’ll check in with friends or teachers I trust to see if I was in the wrong. Otherwise, I go to the next step.
  2. Could I have communicated better?
    Perhaps the criticism was due to my poor communication skills. So I take another moment to see if I my words could have been taken wrong. If I decided I worded something poorly, I’ll edit the post and if it seems appropriate explain further or apologize.
  3. Will a response really make the relationship or the world better?
    The answer is almost always no. Crass comments and blatant insults get deleted. Criticism that I decide has no merit usually gets ignored. But on rare occasions, if the point I was making was too important or if I think the criticism leads to too much confusion to my intended audience, I’ll reply. On those rare occasions, I never reply with anger or accusations. I make sure to take a softer tone than the one criticizing. The more I reply, the more polite I become. And if I get criticism to my response, I go back to step one.
  4. Forget it.
    It takes practice, but put enough things up on social media and those who have no hobbies other than staring at screens will eventually attack. Learning to forget is vital to your sanity. Impolite critics aren’t worth my time. I have family and friends to spend time with. Books to read. Skills to learn. Training to accomplish.

I use the same process for emails, and to a degree, for in-person communication. Again, this is usually a twenty second process at most. But going through it helps me refine my communication, make sure I’m learning and growing from every experience, and ultimately makes it easier to let go of criticism that the distance of social media makes both harsher and easier to exacerbate.

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