Developer growth

Dealing with feedback when it’s personal

When you  publish any content publicly on the internet, you’re opening up yourself to feedback from others. If you’re lucky someone will care enough to leave a supportive or inquisitive comment. That’s great, it means you’ve written something of value. Sometimes though, the feedback isn’t as positive. It could be that someone disagrees with your viewpoints, or approach to a topic. And sometimes it spills over to be personal. Receiving criticism is hard, especially if you’re venturing out with your content for the first time.

I’ve been blissfully exploring my newfound love of blogging about topics I care about, and have received a few comments where people show their appreciation and opinions. As part of spreading the news of my latest post I usually add a link to Hacker News. This has generated a few extra clicks to my articles, but nothing that has led to anything other than a few spikes in my stats.

Last week though I published a very personal post about a difficult time. Shared it to HN, and saw something very different happen.

“My Personal Burnout – Lessons Learned” hits #7 on Hacker News

The post gained traction, and suddenly was in the top 10 of HN. At one point it was #7. Now this is was cool; I had written an extremely personal piece, which people were reading, and I had even started to get a comment or two directly on the blog itself. Then people on HN started commenting the link, and my heart sank. My post was being torn-apart and second-guessed. Since this post was about me, I was now being judged and assessed.

Needless to say, it was an unnerving experience. I have always been open to feedback, but I wasn’t prepared for others analyzing myself, my family, my health or my sanity.

Feedback and personal criticism

You are what you do, if what you do is crap… what does that make you?

Scott Hanselman from This Developers Life Podcast 2.0.1 – Criticism

As professional or even hobby developers, there will always be criticism. We expect feedback and also honest criticism from our superiors and peers. Dealing with this isn’t always easy, but at the end of the day any form of feedback is a blessing. It gives you the opportunity to learn and grow, but you have to be willing to accept it, instead of shying away from it.

Though we may have developed thick skin over the years in regards to our code, what about our personal opinions and our feelings? Writing in public invites feedback in a way you may not be used to. But at the end of the day, the same rules apply. If you are willing to put yourself out there, then be prepared to deal with the feedback.

This doesn’t mean to be ready to defend yourself against every single person that disagrees or is rude to you. It actually means quite the opposite.

Don’t just do something, Stand There!

Paraphrased from Non-Violent Communication by Marshall D. Rosenberg

When feedback is personal, and that means that it’s about you directly or indirectly, it’s extremely easy to feel hurt and want to take a stab back to defend yourself. So tearing apart criticism with your own criticism. No matter how well-intentioned, this approach will be flawed and lead to more pain and anguish.



It’s really easy to play the “haters gonna hate”-card. But that shouldn’t be your fist reaction. Actually, that should probably be the reaction of last resort.

The point is that behind every critique is a drop of truth, a life-experience or some other reference that is causing this other person to go out of their way to give some feedback. Some people just don’t have the tact to phrase their feedback in a respectful way, but jump to conclusions and type the first thing that comes to mind.

Listen to the unspoken words, maybe there’s some value there?

Back to the haters valuable commenters

As I said, reading that thread on Hacker News really put me off my balance since I wasn’t prepared to be the subject of such inconsiderate comments. I realized though, that because of the posts vulnerable and personal nature, it was inevitable.

I wanted to take the higher ground and post a simple and elegant comment that thanked them for sharing their thoughts and experiences without commenting on their actual words. Actually, had those comments been on my original blog, that’s what I would do. But I realized that anything I attempted to answer in the context of HN could escalate into something bad. I had nothing to gain in any way by being part of that conversation.

When looking past the sub-par formulations and assumptions I saw there were two valid points that could be formalized as the following questions:

  • Are you sure you have taken enough time off to recover?
  • Are you setting yourself up for another crash?

I don’t care to go too deep into my actual thoughts around this, since I feel I have actually communicated that quite well in the article. But it’s good to reflect on, which I intend to.

But why not say this in simple, clean language? Most probably due to previous experiences. They know or have heard of people going through hell and back, and possible even experienced it themselves? Based on this they presume to understand both my situation, where I have been and where I am going.

As objective as one tries to be, most people will see the world through their own experiences and have subjective opinions because of this.

Through critique comes love

Photo credit: Olivia Alcock via / CC BY

Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving.

Dale Carnegie – How to Win Friends and Influence People

Something strange happened though. This comment-thread evolved into a mini community of people speaking about their own experiences and failures. Some people required immediate attention and were urged to contact professionals. Others learned more about the topic and it continued. So from the initial rants and finger-pointing something meaningful arose.

Someone else also felt like supporting me in a small, yet powerful way.

Wrapping up

At the end of the day, it’s quite evident that the 5-6 people that decided to write what they did shouldn’t define how the article has been received in other circles. I actually want to thank them for bringing awareness to the article itself and started a great discussions and learning experience for so many more.

On a side-note, there are countless others that have shared, liked and even reached out to me directly after reading the post.

…There will be  mistakes / bad judgements / errors and possibly also making a fool of myself along the way. But I’m going to do so with the best intentions and I’m going to grow.

From my article on the potential of blogging

I am confident that I will encounter more criticism again, and I will be open to listen to it and take any wisdom I can from their words. After all, if nobody is giving you any feedback, are you really growing?

At the end of the day, I am doing something, and moving forward. One small step at a time.

How do you deal with criticism? Do you agree with my approach and conclusion?

Please feel free to reach out to me directly if you have any thoughts, questions or criticisms. Or leave a comment.