This post comes to us from the incredible Dr. Jessica Vogelsang.
“Ugh. Scared. Annoyed. Painful.”
Those were the words given when I asked a packed room at the Western Veterinary Conference to describe how they felt about reviews. Sound familiar?
I recently had the privilege of lecturing at WVC on some of my favorite topics- communications and marketing. I spoke for four hours, but the most highly-attended lecture was, unsurprisingly, “How to Respond to One Star Reviews.”
I’m not the first person to lecture on this topic, nor will I be the last, but based on the number of people in the room, the topic is just as confounding as it was several years ago when people started asking for talks like these. Not much has changed. People like to weaponize reviews. It stinks.
Most of the time, the lectures are given by reputation management professionals (you know, marketers, people who crunch data about your website, that sort of thing.) Maybe it’s a PR person. Regardless, the person standing upfront is almost always presenting the most carefully researched and analyzed data in front of the group of veterinarians who always insist that they want only the most carefully researched and analyzed data.
Which is promptly ignored.
I’ve heard this again and again from befuddled businesspeople and anyone trying to work with us vets. They try different data presented in different ways. “Surely,” they say, “eventually they will realize they should do what we say because the data is right here showing it works.” And nothing changes.
That’s why I decided to create a lecture as a veterinarian who has had to deal with this hassle directly. Like those in the audience, I know full well the white-hot rage of reading a slanderous, factually incorrect, just plain mean review that bears as much resemblance to reality as a Dali painting: bizarre, distorted, disturbing.
As medical professionals, we can put aside our biases and logically evaluate many data points through the lens of our training in evidence-based medicine. So natural is this that I think it sometimes blinds us to the fact that we too, just like all humans, are prone to react with our hearts before our minds kick in when we’re feeling attacked. That doesn’t mean we run around screaming irrational things (though I’m sure some of us have been there); it just means you need to be aware of the timing when it comes to review responses and give your head enough time to warm up and your heart to cool down.
With that, here are a few tips from someone who has walked this walk more times than I care to remember, both for myself and with many colleagues:
You’re Going to Be Mad.
Our brains have evolved for survival. When we’re feeling cornered, whether it’s in a cave by a bear or in a review where we feel like we can’t defend ourselves, the brain goes into fight or flight mode. Unless you quit your job over the review (and I hope you don’t), your amygdala is going to put you in fight mode. “They’re wrong! This is ridiculous! They can’t keep getting away with this!” You don’t have to force yourself to choke it down. You deserve to feel that indignation. Just remember that it flashes hot and fast and then simmers down.
What’s Fair isn’t Always What’s Right.
The words I hear over and over when someone receives a bad review are, “That’s not fair. I didn’t do that. They’re twisting what happened.” When this happens, the instinct is to respond to correct the facts, yes? To make the playing field fair again. It’s galling to have someone recommend that you apologize, make some sort of concession, or do any sort of other conciliatory gesture that you don’t feel is justified. That’s not fair, I agree. When people say this to me; I always ask them to think about what outcome they want versus what’s happening now. Do they want the satisfaction of the last word? Or do they want to de-escalate a situation to avoid the too-common next steps of review bombing, media reports, lawsuits, or board complaints? If it’s the latter, focus on what is right versus what’s fair. What will get this person quiet and, more importantly, out of your life? It’s still fighting back, just with less bloodshed. Life’s not fair, but you absolutely have the power even with the worst of reviews to respond in a way that controls the outcome.
Figuring out What is Right Takes Time.
I have a strict 12-24 hour moratorium before responding to something that makes me angry or defensive, whether it’s a review, an email, or a comment online. I do this not because I am a zen person, but because I’m really not zen at all, and it’s effortless for me to whip out an incredibly passive-aggressive reply to someone that I’ll later regret. It takes me that long for the flames to die down and for my analytical brain to kick in, even now, after years of writing. What I say after a day of mellowing out rarely if ever, bears much resemblance to my initial response. But you know what? It works great. I tried it just this past weekend, in fact. God bless the cooldown period.
Yes, there’s flowcharts and algorithms and scripts that can help you determine what to say to a bad review, and they are incredibly useful devices that allow you to focus on outcomes versus the specifics of what was said. But all is for naught if you’re not in the headspace to allow yourself to reason through your response. It will be ok! No matter what you say, I guarantee that, just like a piece of chicken, your response to a bad review is much improved after a little marinating.