Should I Respond to a Public Criticism?

Business owners put their heart and soul into producing great products and services.  Criticisms are taken to heart and hard to ignore.  But should you respond?  Ask yourself three questions:

  1. Will this criticism harm your business or reputation in a significant manner?
  2. Is the criticism legitimate, and although hard to hear, an opportunity to get better at your craft?
  3. Is the attack personal – is it unwarranted or mean-spirited?

The first two situations might warrant a response privately or publicly, but the last rarely warrants a response.  As the saying goes, “don’t lower yourself to their level.”

But what kind of response should you make?  Tom Wark in his article, “How to Respond to Attacks and Criticism in the Wine Industry” describes four potential ways to respond:

The “Thank You” Response

Remember a legitimate, warranted criticism of your work or actions is in fact a gift because it gives you a chance to be better at what you do. When you receive a gift, you should say thank you. This amounts to acknowledging the criticism, perhaps explaining how you have already been at work addressing the issue raised, commenting on how the issue became an issue in the first place, and probably noting how you will be responding in the future. And, thanking them for their considered thoughts.

The “Correction” Response

Oftentimes a legitimate criticism stems from a misunderstanding of the facts. If a critic of your work or actions does not have their facts right, then it is best to simply correct them by pointing to the observable fact they got wrong, thanking them, again, for their thoughtfulness, then briefly responding to anything they got right. This should always been done in a civil tone.

The “We All Have Our Opinions” Response

Because most well-meaning criticisms derive from one’s opinion, this is the most common response you will be giving. If there is in fact a legitimate difference of opinion on, say, the meaning of your work or actions, the importance of your work or actions or the philosophy that drives your work or actions, then it is important that your response first and foremost note that what separates you from your critic is a difference of opinion and that you beg to differ. At the same time, it’s important for your response to acknowledge the philosophical issue at the heart of your difference; that is, it’s important for your response to note the legitimacy of different opinions on this issue.

He also has two great strategies:

  1. Respond in a forum favorable to you.
  2. Ask others to comment favorably to your response and provide support for your business.

The important thing is to keep your cool, be professional and don’t attack – you could find yourself on the wrong end of a libel, slander or defamation lawsuit.  Oh, and remember, criticism is part of life.  It can often be a gift, even if an unwelcome one.