Handling Criticism & The Cost of Call Out Culture in Cyber 

 July 27, 2022

By  Jane Frankland

This week, I’m writing to you about call-out culture. I want to ensure you know how to respond to criticism online. I want to make sure that I’m not losing more voices when communicating. I’ve taken inspiration from a post on this topic by Andrea Gibson from Button Poetry who wrote recently about this and community behaviour. 

Given the nature of what is considered a highly emotive topic, I want to keep a dialogue going, remove as much fear as possible when posting comments so we can become more aware, educated, and ultimately evolve together. To do that, we need to know how to handle online criticism and to have guardrails. So, in the spirit of no blame, no shame, just better business, because that’s what we say at The Source, let’s tear down the system that’s not working for ALL people rather than each other. Doing the latter is what trips us up and holds us back. 

Here are the guardrails:

Be respectful and have an attitude of positive regard and genuineness. Our planet is suffering and right now we are less safe, less happy, and less healthy as a community in cyber than ever we’ve been. Many of us came into the industry because we wanted to see a safer world and we’re not going to get to where we want unless we can have a discussion that’s based on mutual respect – even when we disagree – and with an attitude of positive regard and genuineness.

As pleasant as it is to be surrounded by likeminded thinkers, there’s no benefit in talking to an echo chamber. That’s probably not where we’re going to find the answers to our problems. It’s more likely that we’ll find them in conversations that welcome fresh thinking, a growth mindset, and curiosity or even where the “rub” is. So, let’s have deep reverence for others from the outset. Let’s make this our default way of being. 

If you’re wondering what positive regard and genuineness is, let me explain. The term positive regard comes from a counselling approach called Unconditional Positive Regard, a term coined by Carl Rogers, the creator of person-centred counselling and one of the founders of humanistic therapy. When you have an attitude of positive regard, which is what we train leaders to do at The Source, you accept and support someone for who they are as a fellow human being. Your attitude is non-judgmental and non-assumptive.

Behaving in this way enables you to give someone the freedom to be who they are, without them fearing they’ll lose your respect. It means you accept them as a fellow human being and their right to self-determination. But it doesn’t mean you have to like them or approve of what they do – their behaviour. When you include an attitude of genuineness, you’ll be honest and open about your view, and will give constructive feedback. Behaving this way builds trust.

When you hold both attitudes, you’ll think or say things like….

“I respect you as a human being and get where you’re coming from.”
“Your position and view of the world is valid but it’s different to mine.”
“I know you’re trying to do your best and expect the same from me.”
“I’m going to work to understand the situation, and your point view of it, so that we can get the best possible result for us both.”
“I respect you and your viewpoint, and I hope we can agree that’s it’s ok to disagree and that we can work together productively.”

Here’s how Matt Treadwell respectfully responded when someone called him out on a well meaning share…

“Your comment demonstrates once again your value to the LinkedIn community to act as a thought leader who always offers challenge in a reasoned and respectful manner. Great comment that will move the debate on around issues of consent and empowerment.”

Having these attitudes don’t just work for us here. They work for your teams, clients, partners, suppliers and with anyone you interact with, be they loved ones, family members, friends and so on. When you adopt these attitudes you enable innovation, fresh thinking, and creativity. And you’ll always increase the likelihood that you’ll get the best out of those you interact with.  

Be open minded. Many years ago, I was taught that assumption is the mother of all evil. So, if that’s the case, let’s not assume that we know more about a group of people that we do not belong to than they know about themselves. 

Be reflective. Not everyone is capable or wants to offer a quick retort, view or even an apology, so let others take their time to respond and if that’s you, know it’s acceptable to do so. The other day, Nicola Whiting MBE, posted about reflective thinking in regard to different types and learning styles. 

Apologise for your mistakes if you make them and you’re sorry. I don’t know anyone who deliberately sets out to make a mistake – even entrepreneurs who are taught to fail fast and fail forward. None of us are perfect and we’re all learning as we go. At The Source, and in my network, we believe you are allowed to respectfully disagree. So, if you unintentionally hurt someone with your viewpoint, please work to understand the pain you’ve caused. Additionally, that authentically accounting for it (an attitude of genuineness) by saying sorry is as important to you (the person apologising) as it is to the person who you’ve hurt.

So, if you’ve hurt someone and need time to consider the feedback you’ve received, here’s a suggestion (from Andrea) as to what you can say.

“I’ve been taking some time to think about what you’ve said and I’m not able to offer an apology right now. That could change with more learning, which I’m committed to doing, but right now I’m unwilling to disrespect you or me by giving you an apology which doesn’t yet resonate with me as truthful.”

If someone has hurt you and they won’t apologise and you need to work with them or clear the air, then consider taking the lead and saying something like this,

“I don’t want there to be ill feeling between us and I know our discussion got heated. I respect you and your viewpoint, and I hope we can agree that’s it’s ok to disagree, move on and work together productively.”

Be kind. You can be kind and still not tolerate cruelty, micro-aggression, passive aggressiveness and or online abuse. Always be mindful that judging someone says as much (if not more) about the person judging as it does about the person who is being judged. It’s not cool to be unkind and humiliate someone online. Sadly, for us in cyber, I see this type of behaviour happen often. Typically, it’s from someone with a following who takes a righteous stand or shames or belittles someone else.

I understand how easy it is to get sucked into this type of behaviour and take pleasure in the humiliation, especially when the person who is remarking is someone you like/ follow and perhaps you feel they are in the right. However, humiliating someone and taking pleasure from someone else’s misstep or ignorance is a form of bullying.

Here are some words of wisdom I’ve found useful over the years.

See the humanity in others. If you can’t do this, chances are you can’t see it in yourself, so prioritise liking yourself and doing some deep inner work. That way, you’ll be less concerned with attacking others. Please do your upmost to understand someone else point of view, or wrong turn, or judgment error, and be tolerant of the journey they are on. Making mistakes and hopefully being given the chance to learn from them is part of the journey. Know too that when you build empathy you increase your ability for joy.

Be considerate. Before you comment on a blog, post, forum, or discussion group, ask yourself or consider the following:

  • Is your communication respectful?
  • Would you be saying what you’re about to say/ write if you witnessed your best friend, loved one or family member making the same judgement error? 
  • Is your desire to publicly call-out someone an unwillingness to hold the mirror up to your own behaviour or even disguise it?
  • Do you feel pleasure when you see someone being blamed or shamed, and if so, consider why this might be? What aspect of you needs healing?
  • Some people say or post ignorant comments due to their environment, so ask yourself, are you viewing this other person’s comment in the way that you are because of your privileged upbringing? If so, consider theirs.

So, what’s next?

Tell me your view. How do you deal with others who disagree with you. Do you remain silent, apologise, retract, take some time to reflect or calm down, or do something else?

Then, if you’re a woman in cyber come join me at The Source. It’s a membership club for women in cyber and an environment where community and opportunity overflow. We have membership for all levels of women and budgets – https://bit.ly/TheSourceSalesPageX

If you’re a business (leader) who values women, and you want to improve results (and are ready to invest), we need to talk! Book a discovery call and learn how we can help you succeed!

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Jane frankland


Jane Frankland is a cybersecurity market influencer, award-winning entrepreneur, consultant and speaker. She is the Founder of KnewStart and the IN Security Movement. Having held executive positions within her own companies and several large PLCs, she now provides agile, forward thinking organisations with strategic business solutions. Jane works with leaders of all levels and supports women in male dominated industries like cybersecurity and tech. Her book, IN Security: Why a failure to attract and retain women in cybersecurity is making us all less safe' is a best-seller.


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