My Club Got a One-Star Review

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How do you handle a one-star review? Capable leaders are adept at untangling the many stories that compete for attention when problems need solving and egos need soothing.

I monitor a FaceBook page for a local chapter of a national organization I’m a member of. I was surprised when one of last year’s guest speakers, a member from another chapter, posted a one-star review of our chapter. The speaker mentioned our club president by name and suggested that when he’d asked for a testimonial in exchange for traveling to share his knowledge, his request had been bluntly declined. His angry response was to tell the world a story that we were an ungrateful and self-aggrandizing bunch.

Our chapter president had obviously not thought very much of his presentation. According to the speaker, when asked for a testimonial, she had responded with a pointed critique. I, too, had been underwhelmed by that presentation. Had I been asked to write a testimonial, I would not have felt comfortable recommending him. Part of me wanted to respond with a public story about how technical and confusing his presentation was.

But many conflicts can be characterized by a thought balloon hovering over someone’s head that says,  “that’s not how the story was supposed to go.” Our organization is known for its familial, helpful culture. Share your skill and expertise, and you can expect your contribution to be recognized and rewarded tenfold by other members who will share their talents with you. That’s what this speaker had been expecting, and he’d been disappointed.

Hanging laundry on the balcony rail is discouraged in our building. We have an ethics board that’s available not only to our members but to our clients. If anyone has a grievance with a member that can’t be resolved through a private, one-on-one exchange, that problem can be submitted for review. This public review violated protocol, and that suggested a story about right and wrong and clear divisions thereof.

It would have been easy to get stuck in the wrong story, but escalating a conflict is the least effective road to resolution. Storytellers focus on outcomes—on the transformation. My goals were to have the speaker delete the negative review, and also to have him think differently about the character of our members.

Angry people want to be acknowledged and listened to. Rather than engage in a fruitless debate about our club’s past president’s personality, I gave him an out: “Some [people] are easier to get along with than others.” His problem was with an individual, not with the chapter he’d just reviewed. I sent the speaker a private message:

Dear Mr. Speaker,

I am disappointed you feel your experience with our chapter warranted a public, one-star review. Many of our speakers ask audience members for testimonials. Some are more willing to give them than others, and of course, some are easier to get along with than others.

When people become disinterested in you, they’re more likely to act only out of self-interest. A speaker who gives audiences bad reviews will not get hired by anyone. We had stood and politely clapped for him. Perhaps it was his turn to politely stand and clap for us.

Your opinion about our chapter president may not reflect on the character of our chapter as a whole. Your review could be perceived as a slap in the face to those who stood up and clapped after your presentation. As a speaker, you are giving your AUDIENCE a one-star review. That might reflect negatively on you in the eyes of other chapters and other audiences who might consider having you speak.

Without waving a rule book in his face, I made it clear that our organization has a protocol for handling disputes, and that he had taken personal, public action without using the channels and resources at his disposal.

Your membership dues give you access to an ethics board that exists to resolve conflicts. If you feel you have been treated unfairly, consider using that resource as an alternative to making matters public.

The speaker had reviewed our chapter based on his interactions with one person. His interactions with one, different person—me—could change that opinion. I assured him that the spirit of our organization was alive and well, and that as his colleague, I cared.

Though I am not a chapter officer, I do what I can to ensure my colleagues have a positive experience, especially when they travel to volunteer their time and wisdom. If you’d care to discuss the matter, you’ll find me polite, friendly, accommodating, and understanding.

Thank you,

Dave Bricker

A one-star review will always sting, but when conflict arises, it’s too easy to get caught in an endless loop of escalating, negative exchanges. By focusing on outcomes, storytellers turn conflict into opportunity.

The story has no fairy tale ending, but less than a half-hour after he’d posted it, the speaker deleted the negative review. And though I can’t change the fact that he’d had a negative experience, he got a positive one to balance against it. If I wrote the story right, we went from one to three stars in his mind. That’s a story I can live with.

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