Scobleizer Weblog

Daily Permalink Thursday, April 10, 2003

I wonder, what does "the red pill" taste like? Does everyone who eats it get a T-shirt like this one?

A personal note to DonXML: your site fooled me. I thought, for a second, that your site was done by Don Box. I really wish you'd use your full name so we know who you are, or get an identity further from Box's, since he's one of the world's XML experts.

One way Microsoft could bring all competitors to a stop? Hand out Freelancer. My brother is addicted. Awesome graphics.

Lora Heiny told me to try out the new ShareKMC utility for the TabletPC's (for when you use a tablet at the same time as you use your desktop). She warns that it's alpha software and that they are looking for feedback on ways to make it better.

My share price on blogshares is seeing a trend. Maybe it's time for all those Silicon Valley executives to run up the price?

John Roberts says "anything new is a challenge."

Believe me, folks are still talking about SharpReader, the best RSS news aggregator to hit .NET.

Is Gnomedex the first conference with an RSS feed?

Thomas Lewis asks "it sounds as if you bought [RedHat Linux] 8.0 today, you would only get support for 8.5 months? I can't imagine that. What am I missing here?"

Andy Oram: "But in marketing terms, this is a major concession from Microsoft. They are admitting that in one quite crucial, huge area--consumer devices--they are going to have to live and let live with Linux."

Lilia Efimova, on her weblog titled "Mathemagenic: learning and Knowledge Management insights" asks "I wonder why so many people are skeptical about weblogs?"

If you're working at Netflix and an irate person named Steve Sloan calls you up, you might read my "dealing with criticism" posts. He's quite irate at Netflix. He's my old boss, though, and he's quite a teddy bear once you figure out how to get him his movies.

See, now THAT'S how to criticise (Vice Presidents, take note!) Start a weblog.

Keith Pleas says "oh, it's not so bad being a Mort." Visual Basic programmers will grok that.

By the way, if you wanna criticise me, please do! I am always looking for ways to improve myself. If it makes you feel better to write me a "you suck" email, go for it! I'll guarantee I'll read it, and maybe it'll lead to an interesting weblog too. You never know! My email is

How do you respond to criticism? If you're going to be in the public eye (er, be a weblogger) you'll get criticism. How you respond to it will define you as a person and will determine whether or not you continue writing and giving your opinions in a very public way.

Today I got a very angry email from a vice president at a Silicon Valley company. I won't reveal the writer's name, since I doubt this person wants to reveal him/herself to the public in the manner that was revealed to me today (if they want to, they can reveal themselves in my comments). I decided not to respond to this person's email, but if he/she is reading my weblog now, he/she will realize that I did read it, did consider the points that were made, and have taken them to heart.

This particular email was mostly an ad-hominem attack.

Its title was "you suck." And that was about the nicest thing this particular email said about me.

In the body this vice president did made some interesting points. Obviously I can't share here, since that'd reveal who wrote the email and the company that this person is currently employed by. The cogent points were that I was attacking the company the email author works for, and therefore I was the lowest type of slime and that I really should reconsider the way I was going about my weblogging and other activities on the Internet.

OK, point heard and taken. A note to my readers: this is my hobby, and I will always try to do best for you since you took the time to drop by here and read me. I don't owe any company anything (other than NEC, which gives me a paycheck in return for my 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work).

I guess this is a good time to yet again put the standard disclaimer that "my opinions are my opinions and were not approved by (or condoned by) my employer, or my wife, my son, or anyone else."

By the way, the best way to prove that I'm wrong isn't to write me an angry email (although I'm sure it's a cathartic experience), but it is to prove me wrong in the marketplace. Nothing makes me feel smaller than to say something is gonna be a failure, and then have it come out and be a raging success. Likewise, nothing makes me feel smaller than to say something is gonna be a success, when it comes out to be a raging failure. This is a marketplace of ideas. If my ideas suck (and some surely do) then they'll get pointed out as the rotten strawberries that they are.

So, I've been thinking about this all day. What can I learn from this? What can I help others learn from this? Surely, if I put ideas out there, some people won't like those ideas. So, more criticism is probably ahead for all of us. As Mario Andretti said "if things seem to be under control, you aren't going fast enough."

After all, if you deal with customers, bosses, wives, politicians, are a weblogger, etc, you'll eventually meet someone that's really and truely pissed off at you. How should you deal with someone who's irate at you?

Imagine if you're a CEO and your biggest customer comes in and says "your product is shitty and I'm switching to XYZ." How do you respond? How do you save the relationship (or, at least your reputation, if the relationship is gone too far already?)

Here's some tips that I'm working on -- sort of a FAQ for my department at NEC, since occassionally we do get irate customers. Does anyone else have any others? Any personal stories?

1) Slow down. Don't respond right away. Your first instinct is probably a bad one (it's natural for us to have a "fight or flight" reaction). Don't react by fighting. Get into their shoes first and try to understand where they are coming from.

2) Ask some trusted advisors for advice (if you can -- unfortunately often times the irate person is a customer on the phone and you have to think fast on your feet). Many times you'll be too close to the situation and you'll do something stupid. For instance, I sent this weblog today to several people I know and trust before I posted it.

3) Find out how this person thinks. Figure out what is their motivation for their anger. What do they really hope will happen by spraying anger all over you? (Ask nice, open questions like "how could I solve your problem?")

4) Treat them as if it were the CEO of your company calling and yelling at you.

5) Take their side. "Yeah, this does suck, I'm going to be your advocate, and I'm going to take care of you every step of the way."

6) Sift through the aggregate criticism. A mentor used to tell me "don't over-consider 'outliers'" -- in other words, if only one person is criticising you out of 1000 -- you shouldn't feel too bad. If it's 200 out of 1000, though, that tells you there's a problem. Along that same theme: don't ignore criticism from "little people" and don't overemphasize criticism from "vice presidents."

7) Try to learn from the criticism. If it helps, delete all the personal attacks. I always try to really hear the person and find out what their goal is. If the criticism is coming in person, or over the phone (for instance, from an irate customer) I always listen very intently and ask lots of questions. I try to get all the facts, and never pushback. Pushing back on an irate person will just throw them into hysterics and you might lose any opportunity to learn from the experience and/or start a dialog with the person. I've saved many a customer just by taking their side -- even after they've pissed off many of the other people they've dealt with.

8) Don't respond in email. Try to call the person, if you care about learning more about where the criticism is coming from. Only send happy news in email. Send bad news personally, or at minimum, via a phone call. Bad news is amplified when it's in text (plus it can be emailed around, or posted on weblogs with a note of "look at what this jerk from XYZ company just told me today.")

9) If all else fails, send them to your competitors. I had one lady in the camera store one day who just wouldn't calm down and wouldn't let me get on her side. I finally said, hey, listen, here's the phone numbers and addresses of our competitors, please go and visit them (truth be told, I was also quite rude at this point and told her to "get the hell out of our store.") Guess what, she came back three hours later and bought $3000 worth of stuff from us. I don't recommend you try that technique at home, though.

Anyway, do you have any other ways to respond to criticism or someone who's irate? What do you try to learn from such incidents when they arise?

More reading on the topic of mistakes and learning from criticism:

Bill Gates on Making and Learning from Mistakes.

Author Mania: How to Handle Criticism, by Elisha Charles Five tips on how to handle criticism

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Robert Scoble works at Microsoft. Everything here, though, is his personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. No warranties or other guarantees will be offered as to the quality of the opinions or anything else offered here.

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© Copyright 2004 Robert Scoble Last updated: 1/3/2004; 2:20:04 AM.