How to deal with haters in life and business

How to deal with haters in life and business

If you or your business have ever been the innocent victim of someone else's displaced venting, this article is for you.

Being the subject of someone else’s hate can evoke a plethora of negative emotions — anger, annoyance and guilt being just a few. When hate is unjustified is is probably due to a psychological phenomenon called projection. In this article I’ll explain “projection” and how to handle it within the context of a personal story.

The Context

I run this platform as a one woman show with some assistance from a part-time support team who cover a number of delegated tasks such as responding to client and reader inquiries. Recently an assistant forwarded me her correspondence with a disgruntled reader and I was absolutely thrilled. It's not often that I get negative feedback but when I do, I thrive off it. Because when my work evokes a passionate response — whether it’s negative or positive — I know it's relevant.

In this case the reader didn't like my tone in an email titled "Why you are self-sabotaging and how to stop". Here's an excerpt:

Only 50% of Americans are satisfied with their jobs (even less so in the UK, Germany, and France). The U.S. has dropped in overall life happiness according to the 2017 World Happiness Report (UK, Germany, and France either stayed stable or increased their happiness index but they still rank less than the U.S.).

I call out these four Western countries because they rank amongst the largest, richest, and most powerful in the world based on their GDP (the size of their economies). Now there are dozens of factors that go into determining happiness but guess what is amongst the biggest drivers freedom. Specifically, perceived freedom to make life choices.

The secret to happiness is freedom and citizens of the most rich and powerful countries in the world feel the least free. And you are probably one of those citizens. Despite all of the opportunities that exist and tools you have at your disposal, you likely spend each day harboring certain expectations for your life that you don't feel empowered to turn into reality. And that disconnect has left you disappointed and dissatisfied ...

Why did I write this? Because it's true, the stats support it and it's a problem that needs solving. My intention is not to shame my readers but to bluntly express what millions of people struggle with each day: perceived lack of control and autonomy to live life as they desire. Sure, in the Western world you may deem this as a luxury problem. We are at liberty to muse about "perceived freedom" when there are so many in this world struggling with more severe problems.

I've not devoted myself to those more extreme global causes but the point is well taken. Still, millions in the West are suffering (and even dying) from depression, anxiety, exhaustion and other lifestyle conditions. And many people stay in these stressful circumstances because they think they have no choice.

But returning to the point, my words are backed by happiness research and inspired by my experience as a life and business coach, as well as the emails I receive from readers who ask for ideas on how to tackle these feelings. Nevertheless, this disgruntled reader kept up a series of emails with the assistant about me assuming the worst, preying on people's insecurities, disempowering my readers, and making absolute statements about people's emotional state (all in her exact terms).

But who was she actually referring to in all of this banter? On what grounds was she building her case? And why was she fueling a heated correspondence at an ungodly hour with an assistant who is limited in her ability to represent my views?

I have a solid routine for every piece I publish — the topics are pulled from reader surveys and emails, and the content is usually supported by in-depth research and scientifically sound data or theories. In other words, what I write is in direct response to the demands of my audience, an awareness of business and personal growth trends, and a working knowledge of key theories in relevant fields of study (e.g. psychological, philosophy, strategy).
Yet, this reader felt compelled to run down a list of criticisms about me that weren't rooted in research or fact. In actuality, she was guilty of what she was accusing me of: assuming the worst about my intentions, making assumptions about my motives, and throwing out absolute statements about my readers.

About Projection

So why do I call her behavior out? Not to beat up on the woman or even to justify my stance — I actually appreciated her feedback and tweaked a couple of lines in the email as a result. The purpose is to pull a lesson out of it by drawing your attention to a theory called Psychological Projection coined by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud:

When humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.

My email stirred up something unpleasant in that reader who, in my humble opinion, didn't have the awareness to acknowledge or own it, so projected it off on me and my assistant. We are all guilty of this behavior and it's worth self-evaluation to determine if you have a chronic tendency to project. Typically it takes the form of highly charged accusations as a coping mechanism for unsettling feelings, such as

  • “That person hates me” when you don't really like that person.

  • “They are so unbearable” when you are actually jealous of them.

  • “They made me fail” when you were just inadequate or unprepared.

  • “They are cheating on me” when it’s your insecurities taxing the relationship.

  • “That person is arrogant” when you are just unconfident.

  • “They are so rude” when you are actually the inconsiderate one.

If there's one takeaway from all of this, it's that your emotions are your own. You are ultimately responsible for your feelings, thoughts and actions no matter who or what triggers them. Blame shifting, fault finding, finger pointing, and other forms of projection get you nowhere. Admitting how you feel, and committing to either living in peace with or overcoming the negative feelings you harbor, will help build emotional maturity and better navigate the ebbs and flows of life and business.

Handling Haters

Now, what should you do if someone projects (aka hates) on you?

First, disengage if at all possible especially if they are a random nobody (such as internet trolls). When a person is in this frame of mind any feedback (even if intended to be positive) can be misconstrued and used against you. My assistant made the mistake of continually trying to appease that reader and it only made things worse leading to a email exchange that wasted both of their time.

Second, if the person is close to you then follow up at a later time (once they’ve chilled out) and give them constructive feedback. Instead of shaming them (which can be hard for them to accept) own your own feelings. Discuss how their words were confusing because they attempted to paint a picture of you that isn't true. Speak about how their accusations don’t reflect your character or the reality of how most people perceive you.

Third, don't internalize it. In extreme cases, when narcissists project on people close to them they are so effective that they actually make them believe lies about their own character that lead to depression and other psychological issues. You may not be dealing with a outright narcissist, still it's important not to make the mistake of automatically believing their statements.  

For instance that silly reader accused me of "preying on people's insecurities." But let's be realistic, if I wanted to make a lot of money by taking advantage of people there are more lucrative outlets I could have chosen from.

I'm doing this work because it gives me fulfillment. I determined my purpose and decided it was to help you identify and work through both the external and internal factors that limit your progress. I can't appeal to every person or ideal and I certainly won't always be flawless in my delivery. But I derive feelings of happiness from helping you thrive — and I wouldn't have gotten this far if I wasn't good at it.

Concluding Remarks

It’s easy for your work to become the brunt of someone else’s pinned up issues because businesses are public facing. And as a creative entrepreneur or independent business owner it’s almost impossible not to take it personally when someone hates on your labor of love. But do understand, you don’t have time for foolishness. Use constructive criticism to improve, toss useless criticism in the trash where it belongs — and use your intuition to discern between the two because sometimes the intention behind feedback isn’t always clear.

It's my pleasure to support your life's work. Set up a complimentary strategy session if you need help taking your business to the next level.