Say you just spent most of two days writing a story on, oh, I don’t know, the local high school volleyball team. You took time to talk to the coach, the athletic director and a couple of the players. You added some background on the history of the team and, because you did your homework, perhaps you mentioned that one of the players is being recruited by elite college programs. Maybe you played the game yourself back in the day and as a result you know a thing or two about the volleyball.
The next day the paper comes out. Your editor goofed up the headline and somehow you got the terms “kills” and “digs” mixed up. It makes you so crazy you could just pull out your hair.
Now, let’s say you open your email, and you see something like the image above.
It happens. Sometimes we screw up, and sometimes our readers are, let’s say less-than appreciative of our services. Sometimes that’s true even if we get all the details right. One thing I know: You can count on getting emails, phone calls and letters of complaint that are both fair and completely unfair. It’s a part of the job we share.
You can’t control that. But you can control your response to the vitriol.
I mention all this because if you let your temper get the best of you, your egregious response to a complaint can get you fired. You are a representative of the company at all times, and that is perhaps especially true when you hit send on an email that carries your news organization’s name. Your ability to keep cool, even in the face of unfair criticism, is critical to your ability to do the job. There is simply no excuse for lashing out at those with complaints.
So what do you do with an email like that? …
It probably requires some acknowledgment. Respond kindly, rather than in kind. Remember that written correspondence often comes across more strident than intended. People write things they would never say to your face. Know that sometimes people are mad at what you wrote but not mad at you personally, so don’t take it personally.
When possible, get the complainer on the phone. Say something like, “Hey, I got your email. I’m really glad to hear from you. I saw those mistakes and it made me crazy too. Let me tell you how it happened…” If you disagree with the complaints, just say that you understand where the complainant is coming from and it helps to inform you for your next story.
If you can’t call and have to email, remember that your words can be used against you. If you write something snide or profane, the guy is probably going to forward it to your boss or post it on Facebook. Trust me: You don’t want that. Be unrelentingly understanding. You don’t have to humble yourself or admit to things you didn’t do. But be professional and courteous if nothing else.
That’s it. Don’t get in an argument. If the complainer needs to vent, let her. It won’t kill you. I know that these conversations can be difficult. I’ve had dozens if not hundreds of them over the years. In fact, if I have a particular skill it may be my ability to defuse situations like this.
Thanks for listening. Sometimes that’s all a ranter wants.