I’ll admit it: I’m a reality TV fan. Specifically, I love small business oriented shows, like Dragon’s Den, the Shark Tank, and Crowd Rules. On occasion, I discuss the take-away lessons on my business’ blog.
It was a real shock to my system when I got a scathing reply to one of my posts from a show contestant. Even though my blog post had said nothing negative about her or her company, she was incensed that I discussed it at all. It was clear from her message that she was very hurt that anyone was less than 100% enthusiastic about her brand.
After setting aside my marvel that someone who thought this way would choose to appear on a reality TV show, I thought through what I’ve learned over the years I’ve run my company. Lessons come from all kinds of strange places. We have to be willing to view problems as opportunities. The fact that someone’s discussing your company online can be a problem – especially if the commentary isn’t favorable. But it can also be an opportunity, if you’re willing to engage and tell your side of the story.
The question is – are you tough enough to speak up?
Self Awareness is Key
As a business owner, you need to know your own strengths and weaknesses. Nobody’s great at everything, and it’s not at all unimaginable that the same person who’s fabulous at soliciting new business or project management may not be equally skilled at creating marketing messaging or handling customer (or public!) criticism.
One of the challenges that female entrepreneurs often face is that we feel like we should be great at everything. No matter what happens in our businesses, we need to be able to handle it. If that’s how you see the world, I’m not going to try to dissuade you from that viewpoint – but I will definitely suggest to you that the best way to develop the strengths you currently lack is off-stage, in a way that doesn’t directly impact your business.
Let’s say you know that responding to critiques and criticism isn’t your strong suit. You can educate yourself to remedy this situation. There are PR classes, seminars and workshops to attend; on Amazon right now, there are over 160,000 books on this very topic. Turn to your colleagues and mentors for advice; turn on the news and pay attention to how big brands handle the situation when the spotlight turns its harsh glare on them.
But do not- absolutely do not – use your customers, colleagues, and allies as lab rats while you work out your technique. Every point of engagement you have on behalf of your brand should come from a place of strength, where you’re actually good at what you’re doing.
What should you do in the meantime?
Delay & Delegate
When you’re in business, people are going to talk about you, and not everything they say is going to be complimentary. Even when you’re fully aware of this, there will be times that commentary – often from an unexpected corner – is so nasty and hurtful that it takes your breath away.
The emotional impact of criticism is real and can be devastating. The more sensitive you are, the worse this experience will be. I have seen this happen to my clients countless times. One manufacturer in particular was extremely hurt by the commentary that came from their established business partners in the wake of their decision to appear on the Home Shopping Network. As is typical, they wanted to respond immediately and in kind.
However, what might be very satisfying from an emotional perspective can be extremely damaging to your brand. As a business owner, you’ve got to be able to separate from what feels good right now from what’s best for your company in the long term.
The internet loves nothing more than a cat-fight. Social media creates a deceptive aura of intimacy; you may think that you’re responding to one nasty Facebook post or email, but it’s incredibly easy for the whole world to see the entire exchange. Delay your response to any critiques until you’re able to respond from a calm, centered, professional mindset.
Is it going to be impossible to reach a calm, centered, professional mindset? It’s okay, you know, if it is. We’re human beings, not robots who can shut our feelings on and off as the situation dictates. In those instances, take advantage of your self-awareness and delegate the task of responding to critiques and criticism to someone else. This could be someone in house, provided they’ve got the requisite emotional distance and communication skills, or you can bring in the professionals.
Be willing to think creatively: I know two creative professionals who act as each other’s spokeswoman when the need arises. Each one is very sensitive about their own operation, but can respond calmly and professionally on the behalf of someone else’s business.
- People will talk about our businesses. Sometimes they won’t say nice things. We get to decide whether we see this as an opportunity or problem.
- Self-awareness matters. If you know you’re not good at handling criticism, develop a smart internal process to handle this business inevitability.
- Delay and delegation are two tools you can use to avoid PR disasters!