I have a love-hate relationship with Twitter. A few years ago it was an app I used daily – sometimes hourly. I found jobs, made connections, publicized my book, followed breaking news coverage, and laughed at silly quips. My feed was useful. It opened my eyes to opinions different than my own and broadened my horizons.

Over time though, it became increasingly stressful to read. As I diversified the folks I followed, I noticed that there was more and more sniping back and forth in my feed. The continuous (and mostly righteous) outrage became exhausting. Plus, I began to experience unsolicited criticism. Though the criticism wasn’t usually directed at me personally, it was directed at others who look and sound like me, and who hold my beliefs. I couldn’t help but take the criticism personally.

Suddenly Twitter wasn’t fun anymore. It was challenging and exhausting, and so I quit. I didn’t delete my account, but I stopped opening the app. I stopped exposing myself to the challenging opinions. I silenced the criticism.

Digesting Criticism in an Unproductive Way

The hiatus felt good. It was soothing. I was free to stay in my bubble.

Then a few weeks ago I read Sarah Kendzior’s book “The View From Flyover Country.” One of the included essays, Blame it On the Internet punched me in the gut. In it Kendzior reports that in 2013 Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, blamed Twitter for uprisings and protests in his country. “Twitter was the problem because its users had identified Erdogan as the problem,” Kendzior writes.

I didn’t like what I was reading, and I blamed the medium instead of listening to the message.

 Ouch. That sounded familiar.

She goes on to point out that he’s not the only one to blame Twitter for its tweets. Kendzior details how mainstream media has dismissed Twitter activism. She writes, “When marginalised people of colour – people whose own history of oppression in the US is systematically played down – share their plight online, it is recast as aggression, exaggeration and lies.”

Again, ouch.

Twitter became a problem for me when I realized that I was culpable for the criticism I was encountering. I didn’t like what I was reading, and I blamed the medium instead of listening to the message.

How to Process Difficult Information

It’s never easy to digest criticism – however, it is necessary. When we face criticism – constructive or otherwise – we must process it productively.

Listen and Confirm

First, we must listen — shut our mouth, open our ears (or eyes) and digest what we are being told. None of these things are easy for me. I want to fight back, I want to argue, I want to avoid hearing that I’m not perfect. However, simply by listening carefully, I’m taking the first step toward improvement. Listening is step one. But then comes step two. Once I think I comprehend the criticism, it’s helpful to clarify and ask if I’m understanding what I’m hearing.

Fight the Urge to Get Defensive

It’s easy to explain criticism away. We want to protect ourselves, our jobs, our egos, and so we get defensive. We imagine all the reasons the criticism isn’t accurate and defend our honor. In these moments, we must resist that urge. We must not ignore the message and build a protective wall around ourselves and our problematic behavior.

Fight the Urge to Shift Blame

It also isn’t helpful to try to drag others into the fray. Shifting blame, turning the tables, or pointing the finger will not fix the situation. It will not make your discomfort disappear in the long run. When confronted with criticism we must avoid the common tendency to shift or transfer blame to anyone else but ourselves.

Step Away

Once we’re clear on the complaint or criticism being lodged against us, it’s best to take a step back and away. Take a minute (or ten) to be alone. If nothing else, the time alone will help you to avoid saying something you’ll regret, getting defensive, or shifting blame. That time also gives us a moment to digest what we’ve heard (or read).

Process the Feelings

Then it’s time to begin to process all the feelings that come up. Are you angry? Are you embarrassed? Are you ashamed? Are you eager to fix the situation? Label those emotions. Embrace those feelings and use them as fuel for the next step.

Get to Work

After taking a breath and beginning to process the feelings that are coming up, it’s time to get to work. Figure out how to avoid facing that criticism in the future. What needs to change? What adjustments must be made? Consider who might help make a game plan and address the problem?

Digesting Criticism in a Productive Way

We all face criticism from time to time. Whether it’s at work, at home, or on Twitter, it’s not easy to digest. Giving ourselves the grace to process through the discomfort will equip us to make the changes so we can avoid facing the same criticism again.

The future of my relationship with Twitter is still uncertain. However, recognizing why the app upset me in the first place and why I chose to mute its messages, is a step forward for me. My inability to digest criticism wasn’t Twitter’s fault — that was on me.

Photo by Ari He on Unsplash
It’s never easy to accept criticism. But we all face it from time to time. Will we run away and ignore it, or learn from it and better ourselves?