How to Have a Positive Response to the Negative

Published on November 1, 2012

pond_trade_positive_response_mad_woman We have all experienced that moment when you are faced with a negative comment, review, or opinion. No matter what anyone says, it has an effect on us if even for a moment.

When you own your own business it can be particularly difficult to hear a customer or a client’s less than stellar review of your products or service. But believe it or not, your response can greatly affect the brand of your business.

We are going to tackle three arenas where negative feedback can occur and how you can better respond to it, deal with it, or even hand it out; online, out of the office, and in the office.

The Internet has changed everything. We can Google a business and find every website that they have ever been mentioned on. Recently I worked with a client that was obsessed with online reviews. For the company it was exciting to see four or five stars and that positive feedback lit them up with enthusiasm. Anything less than that was deemed inconsequential. Bad reviews quickly rendered a verbal lashing of the reviewer on a personal level. A bad review was instantly ill-received and viewed as wrong and with no merit. Worse yet, there was the urge to respond, and not in the best way.

Ernest Hemingway once said, “I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” I have found this to be particularly true of business owners mostly because they take criticism or negative feedback personally. It is understandable, though; their business is their baby and deeply personal. But the personal element is the first thing that needs to be eradicated. Rest assured that if someone took the time to write a review they are viewing their feedback from one of three outlooks: they actually are a fan and like your product or service and want to see it improve; they write and review everyone or everything (after all this is the digital age and everyone has a platform) and there is no personal intent whatsoever; or they are miserable human beings and the review is just a reflection of who they are (sad, but true). However, chances are that you don’t know the person well enough to determine which of those is the case. You can’t stop people from posting negative comments or reviews but what you can do is setup a protocol for how you handle online reviews and comments, especially the negative ones.

**The most important thing to do is always respond.** Always. Especially if the review is on Facebook, Twitter, or a review site where you have a large following and utilize the platform for relationship building. If it is a positive review, thank them. If it is negative, keep these things in mind:
• **Do not delete the comment or ask that it be removed by a platform administrator.** The problem is that can be seen as a cover-up or an aggressive (even passive-aggressive) way of not dealing with the problem, which could result in even more posts. If you feel that the post is inaccurate, private message the individual to resolve the problem and, once they are happy with the results, then ask them to consider removing the post.
• **Don’t ignore the comment or post.** By doing so you seem unresponsive or apathetic. A message other users will tune-in to in a bad way.
• **Sleep on it.** Don’t type when you are mad or agitated. Take some time to calm down, look into the problem at hand, and formulate a well thought out response.
• **Apologies often go a long way.** Whether you believe that the post is credible or not, starting with, “I’m sorry,” can alleviate much of the problem. There is an old saying that anything after the word “but” negates whatever you said first, so avoid the, “I’m sorry, but…” comment. You may just start a war of words that will likely make you look worse than them.
• **Assure them that you are either working to fix the problem or that the problem has been resolved.** This shows action on your part and can be reassuring to other followers and visitors that your business is proactive in handling problems in a positive manner.

Remember that the goal of online communications and Social Media is to build relationships and your brand. If you handle even the most negative criticism and reviews with professionalism and grace, you will often succeed in retaining that person and further building your relationship with others who have seen the post.

Online negativity can be dealt with behind closed doors and while you may be typing the appropriate response, you may be sticking out your tongue to the monitor, swearing, or even showing them that they are “number one” (admit it, you’ve done it once or twice). But when someone is sitting in front of you telling you negative things about your business, it is nearly impossible to keep a smile on your face. Most people won’t give negative feedback in person. It is like when you are at a restaurant and the server, manager, or owner asks you, “how is everything?” Inside you may feel like you are eating dog barf but more than likely your response will be, “it’s fine.” People typically don’t like confrontation so if they tell you there is a problem, then you may want to listen.

• **Change your physical response.** Take a deep breath. It seems like an easy enough thing to do but often as soon as a negative thought is uttered, we tense up and suck in a gasp of air that gets trapped inside. Breathing will help relax. Drop your shoulders. Relax your facial features. Appearing as if you are not taking the statement well may spark a response from the person before they even finish their statement.
• **Listen carefully.** Don’t be thinking of your response and argument while they are talking. Hear them out and use pauses to help formulate your response before speaking. If you are so busy looking for the false statements to refute, you are likely not hearing the statements that could be of real value.
• **Consider the source before responding.** If you know that this is a person who is miserable and making a miserable statement for the sake of being miserable, let it go. If it is a person who always wants to be right and is arguing for the sake of arguing, let it go. If it is a person with whom you have some type of relationship or who you think may have good insight or values, listen closely for they may see a different perspective than you can because you are so close to your business.
• **Say, “thank you.”** By starting your response in a calm and non-confrontational way you won’t be stoking the fires. Delivery of your response will be important. Keep your tone low, speak slowly and with purpose, use pauses to control the tempo of the conversation, be aware of your body language, be empathetic, and don’t attack the other person – keep it professional and not personal.
• **Don’t be right.** This one is a biggie. The worst thing about a negative review or response is getting into a situation where everyone wants to be “right.” It is a no-win situation and the more you fight to be right, the worse the situation will get. Know that the customer is not always right, but it doesn’t mean you have to tell them how wrong they are. They don’t know your business the way you do and how it operates. How you deliver your response may make things better or far worse. If you are intent on telling them in an arrogant manner how your business is run, you have completely lost them and probably angered them, too. If you need to fill in the blanks for them to better understand, tread lightly. While it is good to sound knowledgeable, confident, and professional, sometimes it is a fine line between that and arrogance. Keep things conversational and not adversarial.
• **Follow up.** If you can’t resolve the problem at that moment, assure the person that you will follow up with them promptly with a solution. Oftentimes people just want a response of some kind and you may not be able to give them what they want in the long run, but not responding at all will leave the person feeling more frustrated. Remember some people seem to thrive on negativity and are more likely to tell neighbors and friends about a bad experience as opposed to a good one.

Not all negative statements and reviews come from customers and clients. Sometimes as the owner or boss you have to give your own negative feedback. Keep in mind that your employees are an extension of you and, while it may be your business, they are often the ones who build and perpetuate your brand. They work with customers and clients and can be what ultimately determine how your company is viewed. Unfortunately, it is likely that no one will care about your business the way you do. It is your blood, sweat, and tears that serve as the foundation and ultimately you may reap the biggest reward but you also can carry the burden of loss. You count on your employees to do the best job they can and to help build your brand. Unfortunately sometimes you find yourself in a position where you have to address an issue or problem. **First of all remember that no one is perfect (including you)** and that from time to time the ball may get dropped. But you hired knowledgeable and talented people for a reason. To gain their respect and loyalty, you have to treat them with the same.

So, when you have to give a negative review, keep these things in mind:
• **Be calm.** Don’t approach an employee in an aggressive or agitated state.
• **Be private.** It is already uncomfortable but giving a negative review or feedback in front of others can be humiliating.
• **Be timely and detailed.** Don’t wait to address a problem but make sure you have all your facts straight and are positive of their merit. By not having all the information, you may be the one in the wrong.
• **Approach the problem, not the person.** Don’t make it a personal issue and make sure the critique is of their work, not them.
• **Be realistic about your expectations.** If you are going into a review with the expectation that you are looking for admission and nothing else, then you will likely be disappointed. Which leads me to…
• **Allow for a response.** If you are going to give a negative review allow the employee to explain. Perhaps there is a valid explanation that you are unaware of. Listen to what they have to say.
• **Don’t be a hypocrite.** Do not give a negative review for the same things you do. The line, “do as I say, not as I do,” leaves employees lacking respect for their employer. Lead by example.
• **Be positive.** Reaffirm your faith in them and provide positive structure moving forward with defined parameters.
• **Know that not all situations can be resolved,** but even termination of employment can be done in a positive, non-confrontational way.

If you really want to build trust, respect, and loyalty within your company, allow reviews of you. Set parameters (carefully) and be ready to be objective. Oftentimes we do things we aren’t even aware of but that can set the tone for how business operates. But, don’t do it if you are going to take it personally or hold grudges! Know your own limits!

Winston Churchill said, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.“ Bottom line is that not all negative feedback is actually negative. Sometimes it is good. Sometimes it is healthy. It would be unhealthy to build yourself or business on nothing but praise, for often knowledge and acceptance of our failures and imperfections is what creates a stronger foundation for growth and success.

Japanese Koi Kodama

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