Criticism is a normal part of doing business. In fact, some of the most successful business leaders have found themselves under intense scrutiny at some point or another. When dealing with negative people and criticism, it is vital to respond correctly, as your response can have a direct impact on the health and future direction of your company.

In our technology-rich culture, almost everyone has an Internet connection and immediate access to various social media platforms. While this can be positive, instant connectivity gives a voice to everyone—which means that everyone can proclaim their opinion and express their frustrations to the entire world in a matter of seconds. It is not uncommon for an unhappy customer to tweet about their experience, tagging the company, individual or business in a public airing of grievances. In a sense, this publicly pressures the company to respond, or at least acknowledge the situation.

How should you, as a business owner and representative of your product, respond when negativity is directed at you online? First of all, it is important to acknowledge that some people are simply impossible to please. Charles Barkley, the basketball legend, said, “I don’t do the Internet…that’s where fools go to feel important.” This statement is simultaneously hilarious and accurate. Twitter and Facebook give negative and destructive people a public voice, but it is very important to remember this: you do not have to acknowledge it.

When dealing with negative people online or public criticism, asking yourself the following questions can help you determine the proper way to respond:

  • Can I fix this problem?
  • Is this a legitimate complaint?
  • Is this person being inflammatory?
  • Can I control this situation?
  • Are my employees doing their job correctly?
  • Is it possible to graciously respond?

In some cases, it may be appropriate to respond publicly and address concerns. If a public response is not possible or appropriate, send a private message. If the person is simply attempting to cause trouble, it is completely reasonable to refrain from responding.

It may seem counter intuitive, but it is important to remember that in business, you cannot please everyone. This fact frees you to be open and honest with clients and customers, without feeling the pressure to fix every single problem in the way that the complainant desires. Criticism is an inevitable part of business and life, so choose your responses wisely.

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