How To Handle Haters (& Your Mom )


I’m going to be honest with you: I’m a little nervous. Tomorrow I head to Long Island so that I can spend Father’s Day with my dad. But that’s not why I’m nervous. I’m nervous because my mom’s been upset with me for five weeks. Ever since her birthday passed and I ‘technically’ never said happy birthday she hasn’t let me forget it. Moms are kind of like the Internet that way. They’re good at holding the mirror up to you to make sure you’re breathing, to pat you on the head, and to remind you, loudly, where you took a wrong step. The better you can deal with them, the greater the things you can accomplish. Or at least, the less time you want to spend pulling your hair out.

Below are some tips I’ve picked up along the way for dealing with a cranky Internet and a cranky mom. Because, well, they’re both pretty important to your brand and well-being.

Break down the real message

Last month I called my mom on her birthday. I asked how she was celebrating, what my dad/brothers had planned and may have even joked about how old she was. But, for some reason, the words “happy birthday” never made it out of my mouth. And, well, I’ve been hearing about it ever since. Taking a step back, I know my mom’s not really mad over those neglected two words. She’s mad because I’m not home. She wants to see me more often. She misses the couch-side chats we used to have late into the night gossiping about things. Even though she says it’s about her birthday, sometimes you have to dig to hear the real message.

The same applies on the Web. The people who speak negatively about your brand usually aren’t upset over what they say they’re upset over. Your customer isn’t mad because it took you two days to respond their email; they’re upset because they think you don’t value them. They’re not mad that you couldn’t respond to the comment they left on your blog; they’re mad because they took it as a sign you don’t care about the community. If you want to fix this, you need to cure the cause, not the symptom. Sometimes it takes some detective work to uncover what it is, but that’s what you need to attack.

Honor unrepentant honesty.

If we’re being frank, my mother knows my bullshit. She can tell from a mile away when my ‘marketing’ knob turns on. And when she notices it, she calls me on it. She doesn’t give me a chance to explain myself, she just verbally squashes me and walks away (yes, that’s where I get it from). Part of being my mother’s daughter means understanding the importance of surrounding yourself with people who will tell you exactly what’s up. Hi, have you met my business partner Rae?

If people are willing to give you brutally honest feedback about what you’re doing, welcome those people! There are plenty of people on the Web who will trip over themselves to kiss your ass in hopes you’ll give them attention. For every troll there’s a leech and you don’t need those folks. Honor the people who are honest with you, even if you have to pick yourself up after their delivery. Sure it sucks when people call us out on shortcomings and it sucks even more when they do it in full view of everyone else, but these are the people who push us. They’re the ones we learn from and the people who help keep our companies on the right path. When someone is honest, even if it’s harsh, find the one nugget that will propel you forward and use it. Drop everything else.

Own your insecurities.

The reason my mother and I often battle to the death occasionally butt heads is because we know each other’s sore spots. I know what I can bring up to make my mother’s ears turn red and she knows what to throw back at me to make me storm up the steps and revert into my 13-year-old self. We’re human and we have insecurities. What families and communities have in common is sometimes we purposely kick other people’s insecurities or we let them control our own reactions. Sometimes it actually helps us bond.

Truth: Faceless Internet people ruin your day because you’re insecure. The same way you have to dig to find out why THEY’RE really mad, you have to dig to find out why YOU’RE really mad, as well. Are you mad because someone made a negative comment about your conference or are you mad that their comment made you question your leadership skills? Are you mad that someone disagreed with your blog post on SEO link techniques or are you insecure in your skills as a link builder? Your response is dictated by what’s going on inside of you. If you’re upset, look in. Don’t look out. I’ve found its way easier to deal with Internet haters when you fix what’s causing you to react to them. You’re not going to change them.

Accept your humanness

Last month I goofed and there was Birthday-Gate 2010. I’ve apologized, I’ve sent repentant flowers, and tomorrow I’ll go home and grovel a little bit more. And my mother, because she is also human and loves me, will forgive and forget. We will both accept each other’s humanness and new understandings will be had. There will also, probably, be cake. And stories. And laughs.

If you goofed, you goofed. Admit it. Owning the mishap lets you see it for what it was and helps everyone to move on. And, you know what? Congratulations. Because if you got called out for failing, well, it probably means you took a chance. And that’s okay. Oh, and when you’re done accepting your humanness, also except theirs. Don’t hold grudges or let it affect you, it just ruin everything you’ve been working on.

That’s what I’ve got. What are some ways you keep your sanity with a trying Internet?

[Oh, and Mom, happy belated birthday.]

Your Comments

  • DanielthePoet

    “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.”

  • Randy S

    I always picture the haters as people with no social life, no one to love and generally lonely people. I know this isn’t true, but it always makes me feel better to think, although they may have truth in what they are saying, they are only putting me down to make themselves feel better. That way i can take what they say and remove any personal attack from it and focus on the truth in their message.

    I guess instead of picturing the audience in their underwear to get rid of nerves, i picture the virtual audience in their lonely troll costumes…

  • David Zemens

    You have a real magic when it comes to writing Lisa. Very, very nice.

  • Joe Hall

    So, what do you do when folks tell you, you have goofed, but you know deep down that you haven’t? I will admit that I have goofed plenty of times. But, every now and then, someone calls me out on something completely bogus. The old Joe would have jumped right in and started arguing, but now a days I don’t feel like perpetuating negative dialogue that just goes in circles. But at the same time I hate just letting things go. So do I get drunk and for get it? Or do I respond?

    • Lisa Barone

      If someone’s telling you that you goofed and they’re (a) wrong and (b) of no importance to your business, I wouldn’t waste my energy fighting it. However, if there’s a grain of truth you can take to make things better, take it. Don’t get distracted by shiny things like, for example, Internet fights.

  • Amy

    I feel like I just sat through a therapy session! You are spot on about the honesty thing. Someone called my company out on something once and we embraced it, learned from it and wrote a blog about it.
    Keep up the great writing!

  • Suzanne Vara


    Absolutely dead on. First before I forget, Happy Belated Birthday to your mother (in case she is reading) and I find very few times the reason a person is so irate is about the present situation. It is a combination of things or an underlying inner feeling that they cannot express.

    Owning who you are by knowing/identifying/admitting insecurities and mistakes are what build a personality and likability. No-one wants to be around the person who is always right and ignores when they are wrong, or is on a constant emotional downer.

    Your writing style is always amazing and continues to keep this a must read every day.

    PS have a great weekend out on the Island. I think we may hear you and mom giggling through the night all the way out west.

  • Michael Dorausch

    OK, so I’ve done this too, and also have a mom on Long island. It must be something in the water supply.

    The important thing to remember is…… Your Birthday! If I don’t get a chance to say so on the correct day, have a Happy Birthday!

  • Marc (@phototakeouter)

    +1 on what David Zemens said.

    You really do have a unique voice Lisa. Seeing ‘author: Lisa Barone’ turns any article I happen upon into an absolute must read for me.

    I’ll totally do the midnight queue thing if (when?) you write your first book ;)

  • Chris Miller

    I goofed when I first got back into this business of blogging, and was mean to you (and speaking of… sorry). I was frustrated with some of what I saw in the industry, but kind of turned into the thing I was pissed about in the first place. The irony is it was stuff that has always been here, I just somehow was hoping it would be gone.

    I think emotion is one of the big dangers of online marketing, especially social media. On one hand you want to make money, on the other hand you want to be “yourself” and on another hand you want to present yourself professionally – so all three voices are now competing to say something that really, most people aren’t very good at saying in real life in the first place, with just one voice.

    On the other hand (I guess we have four?), I’ve seen some community and forgiveness on the web as well. Even with big corporations. BP could probably *still*, even now, do something to win over the internet if they were sincere.

  • Stephen Eugene Adams

    Lisa, If you think forgeting to wish your Mom “Happy Birthday” can get you into hot water, try forgetting your grandkids birthdays (I know you aren’t there for another 40 years or so). My daughter-in-law has never forgiven me for forgetting my three-year-old’s birthday. The lesson is that everyone needs some positive feedback now and again, even employees. I now have all the birthdays in my PDA for a scheduled call.

  • Kieran

    My mantra – family & friends matter: the rest can go F themselves if they don’t like what I do or say. Whether in my personal or business life I am long past the phase where I need other peoples approval.


  • Lori Denny

    This is your best topic so far! Human frailty shows up in so many forms, and it is even harder to detect with the anonimity of the Internet. It is easy to see how problems in communications can happen, but not so easy to resolve how to handle it. This article is a keeper that I appreciate. Thank you.

  • DJ Waldow

    Lisa –

    I had a few mom jokes lined up, yet don’t know you well enough to post … and didn’t want to offend (hate?). Oh. The irony. Kidding. As others have said, I totally love your writing style and tone. Open. Honest. AND actionable/helpful.

    I think the key here is that everyone has an opinion. If you are growing your business, you better be making some waves somewhere, right? Not everyone is going to agree with you – never. Never. Ever. Never.

    Love this quote by you: “Because if you got called out for failing, well, it probably means you took a chance. And that’s okay.”

    Hell yeah.


    DJ Waldow