It’s no secret that we live in a culture of “recreational outrage.”
People seem to genuinely enjoy becoming upset and annoyed in a very public way–whether on social media or otherwise. (But mostly on social media.)
It’s also true that in order to avoid criticism, “say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”
So in any age, if you desire to do anything of value or import, you can expect to be the subject of criticism. It just rings even truer in this current cultural climate, which has been called the age of outrage.
So how are we to respond to that?
How can you respond to haters in a way that’s actually healthy and productive? How can we preserve our relationships, our Christian witness, and our sanity in the midst of criticism and mean-spiritedness?
How is God calling you to respond to your haters? Here are 6 helpful tips.
1. Respond Slowly.
When a snarky email finds its way into my inbox, it’s actually incredible how much more quickly I’m able to type. All that latent skill I acquired from Mavis Beacon as a kid awakens and kicks into overdrive. And I immediately begin wordsmithing my well-reasoned, albeit attitude-laced, response.
But on my better days, I just end up deleting the email draft.
I’m a pretty witty guy. Sometimes that can work against me. Because I can think of a snappy comeback, often before another person has even finished insulting me.
But more often than not, the thought that flashes through my mind is something best kept to myself.
When criticized, our natural tendency is to chirp right back. It’s only human. But when we respond too quickly out of raw emotion, we don’t often respond well.
So take a breather. Don’t respond right away. If it’s an email or text, wait a little while before you respond. (Sometimes it’s even better to respond by phone or in person.)
And if you are in the middle of an in-person conversation with someone who offends you, take a few deep breaths before offering a response to the affront.
2. Respond Graciously.
Jesus is full of grace and truth. Grace and truth. The two need to work hand-in-hand. You can respond truthfully to someone who’s being a hater. But you also need to respond graciously.
“I don’t know if you realize it, but what you just said is really offensive to me.”
“To be honest, I don’t think you’re being fair.”
Be more patient with people than you feel comfortable with. They might not have the self-awareness to realize how they come across.
Or maybe they do, and they know they need to work on it. What they said to you was just a personal setback in that journey. (And they probably even realized it the moment it came out of their mouth.)
Don’t immediately assume the worst of people. Extend as much grace as you can.
3. Respond Empathetically.
In order to respond with grace, you need to respond with empathy. What is this person feeling that is making them act this way toward you?
Are they angry? Are they scared? Why?
Gauge people’s emotional and mental state. Ask them how they are feeling, and why they’re feeling it. Ask them what would help. Show them that you care for them, even in spite of the bile that just came out of their mouth.
When you hear what someone is saying, recognize the emotions behind the words, and dignify those emotions by empathizing with them, your chances of having a productive interaction skyrocket.
When you hear what someone is saying, recognize the emotions behind the words, and dignify those emotions by empathizing with them, your chances of having a productive interaction skyrocket. Click To Tweet
4. Respond Thoughtfully.
When you disagree with someone’s assessment of you or something you’ve done, your response should be measured, well-reasoned, and thoughtful.
Don’t put words in that person’s mouth. Don’t exaggerate the offense or inflate the extremity of their view. Assess what they have said calmly and with care. Make sure you actually understand what they meant.
Think about solutions, not just how you can return the initial volley.
Don’t engage someone in conflict just for the sake of conflict. Engage people in productive conflict. The kind of conflict that’s purpose is to allow for greater peace in the future.
5. Respond Humbly.
All of this requires a great deal of humility. You want to respond quickly, because you’re angry. And your pride tells you that you’re smarter than the other person.
You want to respond vindictively, because your pride tells you that you deserve more respect than that person just gave you.
You want to respond on the basis of your emotions, not theirs! Your pride tells you that they should have thought about that before they were mean to you.
You want to respond unreasonably, even untruthfully, because your pride wants to show them just how right you are and how wrong they are.
But that’s all pride. And it’s not a good look.
We need to be open to the fact that we might have a part to play in the present conflict. Maybe there is a part of their criticism that’s valid. (That’s a small possibility–I am well aware. But still. It’s possible.)
Listen to what the person has said. Eat the meat, and spit out the bones. Have the character and humility to recognize which is which. It’s probably not all bones.
Remember that you’re a human who has faults all your own. Sometimes you bear the brunt of someone else’s character defects. And sometimes, other people bear the brunt of yours. Remember that. It’ll make you respond in a healthier way.
6. Sometimes, Don’t Respond At All.
There are occasions when it’s just not worth your time to engage.
This isn’t always the case. But it’s not a cop out either. Sometimes, that person doesn’t have any interest in resolving the issue. They just want to bark. So let them bark and move on with your day. Don’t cast your pearls before swine.
While not everyone is a swine (actually, most people aren’t), recognizing when another person is dead set on foolishness will save you some unnecessary grief.
This doesn’t mean that you don’t love them. You just don’t need to buy them lunch for the privilege of getting more abuse.
Engaging in unnecessarily conflict may serve to only strain the relationship more. That isn’t good for you or for them. So keep your distance. Maybe things will change in the future. Maybe they won’t. Just do what you can to live at peace.
Sometimes peace comes in the quiet.
At the end of the day, we need to remember that people, even haters, are created in the image of God. And that means that they are worthy of dignity, love, and respect.
Keeping that in mind will help us to respond in a healthy way. A productive way. A way that honors Jesus and the people around us.