The Fine Line Between Criticizing and Being a Jerk

Obviously, criticism is something that is part of everybody’s life. Without criticism, nothing would improve. However, I see a trend on FP (and the internet in general) where people tend to cross the line with their “constructive criticism.” Of course, nobody blames the people who cross the line with their “constructive criticism”, if the person receiving the criticism is offended because they have the magic words on their side: “I was just trying to help.” Assuming that you were legitimately trying to help rather than be a complete jerk, it seems that you don’t know how to criticize properly if you came off as trying to be a complete jerk. This blog post will serve as a tutorial on how to give and receive criticism properly.

Giving Criticism

BEING A JERK: “Your forum’s theme is so ugly, that it hurts to look at it.”
BEING CONSTRUCTIVE: “I think that your theme’s colors are too bright. You also could use a more unique banner. Furthermore, I believe that the text is hard to read.”

There are a few general rules for giving criticism.

  1. You cannot call your criticism constructive if it doesn’t contain anything constructive! Everyone who is a member of even one forum has seen this many times. “Constructive criticism” is becoming a shield behind which people hide when they say something intentionally hurtful. You can call your comment “constructive criticism” all you want, but it’s not constructive criticism unless you actually suggest ways to improve.
  2. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If you’re disagreeing with a large number of people, then you’d better have some pretty convincing facts to back up your argument. For example, if you suggest that an active general discussion forum would be better as a sports forum, you’d better have some evidence. You need to have plenty of people saying that they would post or post more if it were a sports forum instead. If you suggest that a theme on a forum is terrible and should be changed when every active member of that forum thinks it’s excellent, you’d better be able to point to people outside of the forum saying that it’s terrible as well (of course, you’d have to make sure that suggestion follows the first rule as well). If you don’t have extraordinary evidence to back up your extraordinary claims, then you’re probably going to be ignored.
  3. If the staff of the forum decides not to act on your suggestion, let it drop. If something bugs you about a forum and the staff refuses to change it, don’t go around the forum posting, “THIS FORUM SUCKS BECAUSE YOU DIDN’T TAKE MY SUGGESTION. EVERYTHING I SAY IS RIGHT, AND EVERYTHING YOU SAY IS WRONG!” Here’s a wild suggestion: if you don’t like the forum, leave. There’s no reason to go around the forum being an arrogant jerk just because the staff decided that your suggestion doesn’t work for their forum.

Receiving Criticism

Like giving criticism, there are also a few rules for receiving criticism.

  1. One extremely outspoken person should not override your entire community. If a person is saying your forum sucks, then your natural response will be wanting to fix whatever complaints they have. However, you should not do something just because one person or a few people want it done. You need to make sure that the rest of your community approves of the change. There are always going to be idiots who sign up on your forum and leave “constructive criticism” in your suggestion forum to try to make you feel bad. When you see that, you’re going to want to change things, but the rest of your community might not approve of it. If the rest of your community doesn’t like the suggestion, you can either find a compromise or ignore the people who are saying the negative things (they’re probably just trolls anyway).
  2. Allow suggestion threads to stay open even after you (as the administrator or another staff member) have expressed your opinion on the subject matter so that the rest of the community can offer their perspectives. Saying, “This will never happen” and locking the suggestion thread will make you look like you don’t listen to the community. Obviously, if the user is making several threads about the same thing after the subject has been thoroughly discussed, then it’s okay to just remove the thread if the user continues to make it. However, you should always get the opinion of the community before locking a suggestion thread.
  3. Don’t lose your temper even if people are negative. Publicly losing your temper and posting irrational comments is never a good idea, even if people are blatantly saying negative things without offering constructive advice. Always remain as professional as you possibly can. It’s hard at times, but it’s something that administrators must do.

Criticism is a balancing act. If you, as a member of a forum, are saying negative things (“This forum sucks”) without giving any ideas whatsoever to improve, then don’t expect to be taken seriously. On the other hand, if you’re an administrator who does not listen to your users, then don’t expect to keep your users for very long. Criticism is something that must be used responsibly in order to avoid hurting feelings. If you don’t have any ideas on how to improve something, then don’t say anything about it.

Also, I know that everyone is tempted to comment, “This post sucks” on this blog post just to spite me. Now, if you do it, you won’t be funny anymore.  I spoiled it.


This article was first posted on our blog on 19/02/2011. For this reason, the information may be outdated and no longer reliable/correct.

1 comment

  1. This post sucks 😀

    No, You did a great job and would have to agree with you on some of these points 😉

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