You Have To Have Thin Skin

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You know the saying, "you have to have thick skin," don’t you? Is that true? Must we all have thick skin?

When Blogging first became popular, it was not uncommon for many of the leading Blogs and Bloggers to be completely anonymous. That was part of the charm of the open space. People could say (and do) whatever they wanted to, and it was just as acceptable to hide behind the keyboard as it was to plaster your mug at the top of every Blog post. When brands first began to break ground in Social Media by engaging with Bloggers (both those that were anonymous and those that were public), it was common to educate clients that what they will see and read may shock them. The content within Social Media at the time was real, raw and unedited. It was important to let clients know that they would have to have a thick skin when engaging in Social Media.

Not much has changed, and yet everything has changed.

While the anonymity of the Internet is now relegated to a small Blogging minority, people have suddenly become much more bold. They’re standing up (more and more) for what they believe in, and they are even willing to publish and defend their position in the public domain. This is an amazing truth serum for businesses, brands and marketers who are (to quote Steve Jobs) trying to "make a dent in the world." For others, a lot of this content and conversation is painful, hard and very wounding.

Maybe we need to think about having thin skin instead of thick skin?

I’m guilty of this too. In my first business book, Six Pixels of Separation, I tell readers (nay, I warn them!) that if they do engage in any of these many new media channels and platforms that they must have thick skin, but the truth is that I don’t have thick skin at all. I have very, very thin skin. I want people to think my ideas are great and if they do not, it bothers me. I harp on their every word and I play evil games in my mind about snarky ways to defend my own honor (and then I do nothing by taking a personal and moral higher ground stance). When people are overly nice to me and complimentary, my skin is thin too. I don’t know how to accept it graciously. I think thoughts like, "oh, they’re just saying that to be nice," or "if they only really knew me, they wouldn’t think in this kind of way." I’m great at self-deprecation because – without question – it is one of my primary self-defense mechanisms. When I discuss my stance on Blogging and blog comments (more on that here: The Power Of Engagement And Blog Comments), what I’m not telling you is that by trying to defend or reiterate my stance, I actually begin to think that maybe my initial thought was wrong, or that someone else is always smarter than me. Because I have thin skin, all of that sucks a lot of life, energy and passion out of Blogging, writing, thinking and creating new marketing paradigms.

Even Blogging this stuff doesn’t feel comfortable because I don’t have thick skin (you may be laughing at me right now).

I don’t like hurting other people’s feelings. I don’t like making other people feel that they are not an equal. I don’t believe anyone should be unethical or up to shenanigans. Ultimately, I don’t believe that in order to speak our minds, we have to make others feels like they are less than us or wrong. I don’t have a thick skin. When people say, "it’s nothing personal, it’s just business," I think to myself, "it’s very personal. I spent most of my waking hours at business. If that’s not personal, what’s the point?"

What do you think the Social Media and Marketing world could be like if more of us started embracing our thin skin?


  1. In many places I am seen/known as a contrarian , screaming heresy in the wilderness. It can be exhausting, embarrassing, and lonely. I would have thought that my skin would have gotten thicker but I still feel a pang when I am ridiculed, I get anxious when people roll their eyes, I want people to like me. I do my best to ignore the unpleasantness and anxiety because I believe that the discussion is richer when we demand dissent (rather than tolerate or encourage it). I always try to be respectful, in challenging sacred cows or expressing outlandish propositions, and hope for the best but maybe it would ‘easier’ if I was an armadillo.

  2. Hey Mitch…let me share my motto with you that you are welcome to adopt (if you like). “What someone else thinks of me is none of my business” (the caveat is, when I live my life from a perspective of personal integrity)
    When we hold back because we’re worried about what some might think or potentially hurting their feelings, although that is not an intention, what you’re also depriving the world, and probably more people than you can imagine, your insights, wisdom and ideas for movement. What you write has power and impact. How people choose to use your wisdom is within their control.
    I love reading your stuff and Seth Godin’s stuff. I might not agree with everything, and some might push a button here and there but I can say everything you write makes me think beyond my own knowing, story, experience and perspectives.
    I thank you for it and please keep writing.
    Donna Karlin

  3. Great post – and very personal, too. Its very common for people to desire acceptance – especially when it comes to our own ideas. When I write a blog post, there’s always the fear of rejection – that I got it all wrong. Somewhere along the road we, as bloggers, need to realize that we’re brave enough to put our ideas out there to be accepted, argued or bashed.

  4. What do you think the Social Media and Marketing world could be like if more of us started embracing our thin skin? I would be contributing alot more!

  5. Somewhere along the line, everyone needs to define what it is that they stand for or stand up for, independent of the ramifications. I (somewhat) remember during the 2008 presidential campaign, during one of the debates, a moderator asked the candidates, “what is the one issue you stand for and are so passionate about that you are willing to lose the election over.” Needless to say everyone danced around the question without answering it.
    Somewhere (not everywhere), we each need to take a stance. Otherwise, dare I say, we are just political players. I guess this means that for our important issues, we must have thick skin. For other issues, thin skin is okay.
    Social Steve
    PS – Like another commenter stated – I love your blog and writings … don’t always agree (but do more often than not). But the most important thing is that you always make me think about important aspects of marketing. There aren’t many people that do that to the extent you do. So keep sharing even if not everyone agrees. And thanks!

  6. Mitch you have said time and time again, drop the anonymity, put yourself out there, and give it all away for free. With that in mind I believe what we need to have and embrace is clear skin. We need to expose our selves and in turn we need to be able to see others through our skin. If someone says your wrong, and then they give you an opinion, listen to them carefully, then question them instead of making a statement to defend your position. If you formulate the right questions chances are there will be no need to defend yourself or feel hurt by what they said. – Great Post

  7. There is a French expression that I like: “Il faut accepter de déplaire pour plaire”. Loosely translated, it would be: “You have to be willing to displease in order to please”. If a blogger wants to post a meaningful comment (and not a truism), there is a high probability that his contribution will hurt some readers.
    Therefore, when blogging, you are exposing yourself to raves but also to criticisms, two elements that favor both the thin and thick skin. Moreover, you have to have thin sufficiently skin so that you can be sensitive to what is happening in the world. At the same time, youhave to have thick skin so that you develop a worthy and different point of view.

  8. I think being thin-skinned is a mark of an authentic leader, one who cares about what they are doing and the impact they are having on their audience. If you don’t care, are you not just acting mechanically (no feedback loop) or from a mountain of ego (ignoring the feedback loop)?

  9. YES, i’m with you so much on this, Mitch. The world needs more “thin skinned” people to admit that they are thin skinned and then go on being more open and giving.
    Thank you for having thin skin. That’s why I like your blog so much.

  10. It’s tricky, isn’t it? I started using my real name on everything, because I got so tired of flamers and trolls hiding behind anonymity, that I thought I should be willing to stand behind what I say.
    More to the point, your post really highlights the essential existential challenge of living, which no amount of technology really takes away. We are always in our own thoughts, and always must evaluate the truth or not of the world outside. Human connection is actually just as difficult, in the truest sense, as it ever way. We talk in different ways, but we still can’t mind-meld.
    thanks for a thought-provoking post.

  11. I’ve been in media for over 25 years and I care about what people thing, I like watching the numbers, I hope my content resonates past my own keyboard, I like when people like me.
    It’s hilarious that the people who say it’s not about the numbers have great numbers.
    It’s always quality over quantity but if we didn’t care then we wouldn’t have analytics and counters, we may not have a bottom line at all. Who cares?!
    Some of the most brilliant I know have skin like filo pastry and who cares? Right? Really? What do you think of what I think?

  12. I liked this post so much Mitch – it is always heartening when someone is so honest and authentic – and I agree with Shawn – great thinkers and leaders are the people who really care. I think that this is probably one of primary reasons that people follow your blog – they know that they are always going to get an honest, thoughtful, read. You can’t have Yin without Yang – and both are good. If everyone agreed all the time how dull would this world be?

  13. Mitch, this post is a perfect example of why you are read every morning alongside my Globe and Mail.
    It’s you’re approachability and creative perspective on marketing and social media in particular that sets you apart from “industry speak”.
    You cannot be creative without being sensitive to what others think; embrace it, it’s why you’re a success.
    And, as heard in one of your podcasts, in this era, business IS personal.
    Thanks, really LOVED this post! You rock! no, really, you do! …

  14. In my experience, what people crave most out of this life is appreciation and validation. Unveiling the curtain on your thoughts, expertise and beliefs takes courage. No one likes to be left exposed. I commend your honesty and bravery in writing this post. It gives me the courage to forge through my fears and persevere knowing an accomplished professional such as yourself has weak moments.
    If we were all made of human teflon, life might be more bearable, but much less interesting.

  15. Right after I got your post, I got one from Scott Stratten that I thought you would like
    I also pointed him to yours.
    It seems people who really get it, understand that connecting socially (even if it is in the ether) is still all about how you feel and what you believe.

  16. Mitch, I would like to title this post “Hi, my name is Mitch and I’m not a jerk. Is that OK?”
    You’re a genuinely nice person Mitch and you’re right, we need to care more when we write. Well done.

  17. Lots of great comments already, but let me add a further “thank you” and well done for writing something so honest.
    Next you’ll be sharing your family holiday pictures with us ;->

  18. Although I read this a week too late, me skin is not thick enough to miss this.
    Again, a very touching article.
    Again, right to the point.
    Blogging is putting your heart on the table and risking encountering someone who is willing to crush it…or to help you putting it in your chest.
    It is a splendid risk!
    And having a thin skin, certainly my case, allows me to be grateful for those positive or negative comments.
    Having thin skin allows me to TAKE IN those comments and adjusts my thoughts, my writing and interact in a more human fashion with the rest of the world.
    Thanks Mitch for reminding us all, again, of the human side of all things.

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