Taking it Personally

Rather than deal clearly with the situation and address the issue when I was presented with the invoice, I procrastinated and left feeling resentful and ripped off. Subsequently, I let others know of my discontent with his work and outlandish billing.

Months later while attending a trade show I unexpectedly bumped into the graphic designer. After the awkward pleasantries he said, “Several people have commented to me that you were not satisfied with my work. Why didn’t you tell me? You maligned my reputation but never talked to me. How rude is that?” Wow! How do you respond when a mirror is held that closely to your face?

This was my moment of reaping. He was right of course. He should have been the first person to receive my feedback. But instead of dealing with the issue when it was front and center, I avoided the inevitable discomfort that giving feedback brings and resorted instead to reliving my experience with people in my network.

“Had you taken the time to discuss your dissatisfaction with my work, I could have done something to improve it,” he said. “I would have done whatever was necessary to make sure you were happy. You were, after all, my customer.” Ouch!

“Not only did I lose you as a customer, you also biased other potential customers because you didn’t voice your concerns where it could have made a difference… to me,” he added. (Sure, put the knife in deeper.)

We all know the power of word-of-mouth: it can create or destroy. When it works creatively because it finds its root in service well delivered, the business value can be enormous. No other marketing tool has the power of word-of-mouth and its only cost is doing what the business should be doing in any case – giving customers the opportunity to say, “Wow!”

Conversely, word-of-mouth can have devastating consequences when the message being conveyed speaks ill of a business or individual. If it’s deserved, so be it. But when word-of-mouth finds unjustified momentum based on unclear or unresolved issues – as it was in this case – that is irresponsible.

Generally we fail miserably when it comes to giving feedback. We procrastinate, set up our defenses and qualify our comments: “Would you be open to some feedback?” Or, “Don’t take this personally but…” It is not about providing useful feedback, but protecting ourselves for stepping out. And sensing our defensive attitude, the receiver quickly brings out theirs.

In hindsight, it was my inability to deal with delivering feedback – and my emotions regarding the invoice – that aborted what could have been a constructive scenario for both of us. Instead of rising up to the challenge, I chose to hunker down and avoid a possible confrontation. When you’re on the defensive, protecting the home turf becomes most important. It often leads to a lose/lose or at best, a win/lose outcome.

Emotions aside, giving and receiving feedback on business (or personal) performance is a very effective way to build business (or personal) success. No matter whether you’re dishing it out or receiving the punch, there’s great opportunity for growth. But, like all worthwhile endeavors, growth has its pain – you have to deal with your own headspace first.

There’s great power in word-of-mouth. If used to bolster oneself or justify an unclear position, it can have devastating consequences. It’s smarter to get clear first and to let word-of-mouth move along a creative path.