The Impact of Words
Donna Brooke, May 2023
I was drawn to write this blog as recently some comments were made about a business we work with at the Association. Whilst the comments were negative, we didn’t feel the need to mediate as we could see this person was assessing if this was an isolated instance and that they were looking for solutions. However, my thoughts changed when I heard directly from the business.
The comments had really impacted on the business to a point where they felt the commentators were being unfair. Well, we all know how that feels when dealing with reviews!
When it seems to be the only way to get stuff off your chest, it can seem like being negative online is a pretty common thing. The thing is, a few choice words online can be a devasting thing and can get serious.
I do know though that sometimes it can feel easy to do, like it’s the only way to express yourself, or like it won’t matter. That’s why I have come up with a little checklist of things to think about before you post something negative online, so that hopefully next time you think about doing it, you will make a cup of tea instead.
1) WHY ARE YOU POSTING IT?
Have a think about why you are posting it. Is it to take part in healthy debate and conversation or is it just to get at this business? An idea is to write down your challenges with this business and send off an email directly to them. Or perhaps even better, ring them. Seeing it all written down might give you a bit of perspective on the situation.
2) HOW ARE YOU SAYING IT?
We can all say stuff from time to time that comes across badly when we didn’t mean it to. Jeepers don’t I know it! Especially because we can’t really convey tone on the internet, and a lot of sarcasm, irony or even humour may get lost and taken the wrong way. Before hitting that send button it’s always a good idea to give your comment or message a read through and make sure you aren’t accidentally saying something you don’t mean.
If you wouldn’t make the comment directly to the business / person then it probably isn’t a good idea to post it online or in an email.
3) CAN THE BUSINESS YOU ARE POSTING IT about DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT?
Is it a conversation that they can be a part of, offer their side of the story or defend themselves against any allegations that might get made? Imagine if you heard that all this stuff was being said against you behind your back and you had no way of trying to solve the situation and make things right. It would totally suck and would probably feel pretty unfair.
4) WOULD YOU SAY IT TO THEIR FACE?
A big reason why we all find it easy to say negative stuff online is because we can do it from behind a screen, and it is way easier to type than it is to actually say them out loud. Always think if you would feel comfortable saying something to someone’s face before typing it out and hitting send.
Plus, even though it might seem like it can be easy to be anonymous on social media, everything that you put out there is staying there until you take it down for the most part, and there is absolutely no guarantee it will stay anonymous forever.
5) HOW DO YOU FEEL RIGHT NOW?
If you are thinking about saying something challenging online to or about a business, it might be a good idea to check in with yourself first. This was something that I learnt in sales and marketing for the bigger hotels. It impacted both sides of the sale – the sales person and the prospect. It might be that there is something going on with you that you didn’t even realise was making you want to behave this way. If there is, try talking to a trusted person about it first.
Usually, when we feel like posting something negative it is because we are already feeling a bit rubbish ourselves.
6) HOW DO YOU THINK IT WILL MAKE YOU FEEL AFTERWARDS?
I usually sit on a challenging email for a night at least. Having a sleep and time to reflect certainly does help soften my tone the next day!
7) HOW WILL IT AFFECT THEIR business?
There’s a good chance that whatever you say will have an actual impact on someone’s business. We know it might not seem like it when there is a screen and probably hundreds of kilometres between you, but whatever gets put out into the ether does have the power to make waves on someone’s business.
8) HOW WOULD IT AFFECT YOU IF YOU WERE ON THE RECEIVING END?
OK, so I know this is the kind of thing your Mum used to say when they wanted to prove a point, but actually feeling empathy for other people is super important before you decide to say or send something negative online.
So to end, I hope I haven’t come across all woke and with you believing that robust discussion can’t be tolerated. Of course it can. I’m just writing about the impact of your words and ask that you take a moment to understand the affect they might be having.