People argue. On the internet, especially. Here’s some tips on how best to respond to criticism of your ideas or writing – in my experience (the fact that I’ve often failed to follow these rules myself is part of that experience.)
Aggressive and insulting responses are a sign of weakness, and readers know it. If you’re confident in your position, you can afford to be nice, and it makes your whole case look more convincing. Quite apart from the fact that it’s just, well, nice.
Don’t call out people for not being nice, though. The Three V’s – “vitriolic”, “virulent” and “violent” – seem to be especially common complaints. The trouble is that just as remarking on someone’s faux pas is, itself, a faux pas, proclaiming that your opponent is using nasty language lowers the tone of your response.
It’s natural to feel hurt by insults, but keep your feelings to yourself. Even if the criticism really is appallingly vicious, let it speak for itself: just slip a quote of the worst bits into your response, by way of making a separate point, and don’t lower yourself by commenting on it.
Complimenting critics shows strength. It shows that you’re confident that, despite the praise you’re heaping on them, you’re still right. So be generous. It only works if it seems sincere, though, so no outright brown-nosing.
Don’t just defend the ground you’ve already occupied – take the offensive (without being offensive). Bring new arguments to the table. New facts are always good – if a critic tries to debunk an example you used to prove a point, don’t bother to quibble with them: produce three more.
Make your response readable. A reply is a piece of writing like any other, and it should be as concise and as clear as possible. Exhaustive replies are counterproductive; they’re unlikely to be read. Just identify the key criticisms, and respond to those.
Stick to the point. Readers want you to engage with the issues. You may feel that you know all about your detractors’ beliefs, character, motives and so forth, and that these are interesting. They rarely are.
Often forgotten, this one.
If you’re not sure whether you’re right, find out. Take your time. If you have to say something right now, say you’re working on it. Better a late reply than a bad reply.
If you’re wrong, admit it. People will forgive an honest mistake, if you hold up your hands and ask them to. A reputation for admitting your mistakes and correcting your views is actually a point in your favor
If you’ve done something wrong, apologize. And nothing more. Don’t try and justify yourself; it never works. Don’t try and get people to pity you; it’ll ensure no-one does. Just say sorry, and then keep quiet until the whole thing cools down.