Top tips for dealing with criticism as an education leader

Education leaders in the limelight often attract criticism and negative attention. How do they stand it? And what techniques can you use if facing the same problem? Former teacher turned PR specialist Janet Murray reveals all.

If you are in the public eye – and most education organisations and leaders are – there is something you are going to experience at some point: haters. There will be people out there who love what you do. But there will be others who do not and some of them will tell you exactly what they think. On Twitter. On Facebook. Or – if you are really lucky – they might even send you a lengthy email explaining, point-by-point, exactly why you stink.

Thankfully these kind of people are generally in the minority, but their criticism can knock you off balance – and give you temporary amnesia over the dozens of people who have said nice things about what you do.

In 15 years as a journalist and editor for national titles like the Guardian, I’ve had my fair share of haters: from the person who posted online that he had used an article of mine in a writing class (as an example of how not to write) to the guy who tweeted to ask “how someone so ugly [me] could have such a beautiful daughter”.

Everything passes and people will soon get bored and move onto the next thing’

While some comments still sting, I have developed a pretty thick skin over the years, along with a whole host of strategies to
help me cope. So here are my best tips for dealing with haters on social media, the press or in life.

Nothing people do or say is because of you. It is down to their own life experiences, opinions and how they see the world, which is why taking things personally is pointless.

That is not to say you should not ask yourself if there is any truth in what people are saying. While their approach might seem spiteful or mean-spirited, there is always something to learn from the experience.

Perhaps you did make a mistake or maybe there is something you can improve about your practice. Acknowledging this – and showing you’re doing something about it – can often be enough to disarm your haters.

Unless it is personally insulting, I reply to every comment someone writes on my articles, even if I disagree with them.

The way I see it, if someone has taken the time to write, I owe them the courtesy of a reply – an approach that seems to command grudging respect from even the snarkiest of haters.

I am not saying this is the right strategy for everyone – I know some people who fare better by not reading comments at all or engaging with disparagers – but it is certainly worth considering. After all, if you are stonewalling critics, what does that say about your brand?

While most haters will quickly tire of you before moving onto someone else, you may come across the odd persistent offender.

In most cases, it is better to take it offline if you can; if someone is writing negative things about you or your organisation, giving them a number to call where they can speak to a real person and discuss their concerns, can often be enough to diffuse the situation (and show others you’re willing to address the problem). But if this does not work, do not be afraid to block people from your social media networks.

When you are in the middle of a “hater storm” you may feel like crawling into bed and lying there with the covers over your head until it is all over. That is perfectly natural. Remind yourself that everything passes and that people will soon get bored and move onto the next thing (or person).

Seeking out the support of family and friends who can help you things in perspective – and help you see the funny side of things – can help too.

I couldn’t help but giggle at the teacher who tried to poach my job as a writer or the poster who commented on my “ghastly” pine furniture when I was photographed in my home for a newspaper.

As Taylor Swift reminds us: “haters gonna hate” – so you may as well have a laugh about it.

Janet Murray, host of the ‘Soulful PR’ podcast, blogs at www.janetmurray.co.uk

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