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Assertively About: Uninvited Criticism

A few weeks back I had an exchange on Twitter with a podcaster, on the subject of “uninvited criticism”. It ended with him blocking me but that is not the reason behind this article.

His attitude toward his audience, shared by many other content creators, is what prompted me to write about a phenomenon that even though it may seem harmless or even positive at a first glance, hides significant negative effects that can alter the society that we live in if allowed to spread and thrive.

Long story short, Podcaster X and many other people who produce some type of content online, consider that those who dare to criticize their content are rude.

They say that this is uninvited criticism, and it prevents them from fully enjoying their work. More often than not, their accusation of rude behavior makes other members of their crowd attack the individuals who send negative feedback toward their favorite influencer or author.

I disagreed with the stance and commented when sharing Podcaster X’s original tweet, that this has nothing to do with a person’s manners, as they claim, but with free speech, as long as the person does not harass the content creator. I got blocked.

Twitter faux drama aside, the issue is a significant one and I will explain below not only why the attitude of these content creators is aggressive even though it seems positive, but also what negative social implications may stem from allowing these beliefs to spread and thrive.

I’ve been teaching Assertive Communication and Critical Thinking skills for more than 10 years, both as a psychologist and as an online instructor. Two of my courses, with more than 6000 students worldwide, focus on how we manage criticism — how we react to it and how to deliver constructive feedback instead of unjustified criticism.

I will use the same theoretical frame for the present analysis.

1. When we share things publicly, we implicitly invite opinions.

Our public messages act as stimuli. Those who encounter them will react. Some sort of response or opinion forms in the audience almost instantly. 

2. People are entitled to hold and express any opinions.

Even though not all opinions hold the same value — uninformed opinions versus constructive, informed opinions, for example — we all have the freedom to voice them. It is up to the receiver to separate the significant from the trivial and react differently to each of these elements but denying a person their right to free speech is definitely not the way to go.

The whole “uninvited criticism” issue can be translated as “Who asked you?” and that is highly aggressive in the context of fundamental human rights. No one needs to ask or invite you to share your views. You already have that right.

3. “Uninvited criticism” is about criticism. The “uninvited” part is about guilt-tripping.

How do I know? Well, those who complain about uninvited criticism never seem to complain about uninvited praise.

“Uninvited” is a word meant to make the other person feel inadequate and cause them to second guess their decision of sharing their opinion in the first place.

Also, emotional manipulation may extend to the point where the content creator talks about how they publish free content and work so hard to produce it, and the ungrateful audience repays them with critical comments.

Not valid. The creator is using the audience, even if their benefits may not be clear at first. Whether a person likes their content or not, the author uses the number of subscribers, listens, views, etc to get advertising revenue or various brand deals.

Even if there is no monetary reward for the author, it was still their decision to create those videos, books, or podcast episodes. Personal choice, nothing to do with the audience.

4. Criticism is a valuable part of communication and assists personal and social growth.

The feedback that we receive from others throughout our lives, in both formal and informal contexts, shapes our activities and performance in a variety of ways. Justified criticism gives us the opportunity to grow.

5. We are responsible for our own reactions to criticism.

Don’t attempt to control another person’s actions simply because you lack the skills to properly manage your emotional responses to a situation. Building resilience and learning how to discriminate between the various forms of feedback, is up to each of us.

6. Asking others to protect your emotional wellbeing is immature behavior.

Life throws plenty of unpredictable things at us. It’s not a contest but many people have seen way worse life contexts than insults or negative feedback being thrown at them online. Adults prepare themselves and are ready to react constructively to a variety of situations.

7. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all” is major BS.

If we would only say the pleasant things and keep the negative stuff to ourselves, authenticity would be dead in our society. And I assume that the results of constantly lying to one another wouldn’t push us forward either.

8. Imagine if these were companies and not individuals.

What if the production company would say “Hey! After you watch our movie, unless you liked it, keep your mouth shut!”. Or if a restaurant or hotel would only accept positive reviews.

I predict a #BoycottCompanyX movement.

9. The expression of cognitive distortion.

Cognitive distortions are flawed thinking patterns. They modify the way we think about the world, ourselves, and others, in an irrational way.

Emotional Reasoning is one such cognitive distortion. It refers to a person’s tendency to consider their own emotional responses to an object or situation as objective traits of that object or context.

In this case, some content creators believe that since it makes them experience unpleasant emotions, then criticism itself must be a bad thing.

Considering the many ways in which we can use constructive criticism to our own advantage, it is safe to say that negative feedback is not always a bad thing.

10. Tool of oppression.

Blocking criticism that comes from one’s opponents is a feature of dictatorial regimes. Speak against the ruling party or against the main leader and you will have to face the consequences.

An attitude that seems oriented toward positive social engagement can be used to silence people. In fact, simply calling your critic “rude” is an attempt at silencing them. You attack the person’s character, instead of addressing the argument that they put forward.

If individuals can have this effect, imagine what governments can do.

11. A society where everyone is quiet goes nowhere.

Whether it was psychotherapy work or assertive communication workshops, one of the most difficult parts I had to deal with was assisting the client in understanding that their voice matters. That it is OK to have and share one’s opinions and perspectives.

If we allow individuals, companies, or governments to threaten people into silence, either via emotional manipulation or through directly abusive tactics, then we will have a really difficult time building democratic societies and teaching our children to use their voice whenever they want to trigger positive change in the world.

BONUS

12. Equal Rights.

If, as a content creator, you expect to benefit from the freedom of speech clause whenever you publish something new and share your opinion on a variety of topics, then why would you not consider that your audience has an equal right to comment on the results of your work?

See people as your equals. It’s that simple.

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