Responding to Negative Comments

As an editor, I am responsible for responding to people who are unhappy with a point of view expressed in editorial content. I keep several principles in mind when I am responding to negative comments. First of all, I assume that nothing I am going to say is going to change the mind of the person who was offended. While I would like to think that I have strong persuasive powers, the reality is that someone who is unhappy enough to write to the editor about an issue has strongly held beliefs. Secondly, I need to learn from comments and consider if we need to make changes to editorial practices. That doesn’t mean that every comment results in an editorial change, but if there is some sensitivity that is being missed in our editorial process, then we should learn from comments and work on improving our content process.

I use the following principles in crafting a response:

  • Keep it short. While it is tempting to respond point by point to criticism, the longer the response, the more someone can disagree with.
  • Keep it┬áneutral. Affirm their point of view without necessarily agreeing to it. Phrases such as, “I appreciate that you care deeply about this topic.”
  • Keep it positive. Thank them for sharing their views and for being a caring reader.

In addition to these principles, I try to take a breath and distance myself from the comments. Often my first response to a strongly worded negative comment is to get defensive. Responding defensively could do potential harm to the editor-reader relationship, so I let an hour pass before I craft a response. If I am having trouble with my tone in the response, I will draft the response, then have a colleague review it to make sure I am not coming across negatively.

Reader feedback is an important part of the editorial process. Meaningful content can generate both positive and negative responses. A thoughtful editor learns from all feedback and is always evaluating the editorial decision-making process to stay true to the purpose and vision of the organization. And editors are human beings, so naturally we love getting positive comments and are pained by negative comments.

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