Often consumers are entirely rational to criticise companies. We forget this at our peril.
It is often the case that companies face extreme and damaging criticism for sensible, even inevitable decisions. Sure enough this means there is an industry of mostly sensible and even, dare I say, perfectly nice professionals whose roles are to communicate, frame, polish and primp the reputations and figureheads of those businesses.
Many of us who are recruited to help defend or explain business decisions can quickly drink our own Kool-Aid and become excessively defensive of our charges. A certain amount of this is necessary: I find it far easier to coach a client through difficult decisions if I can see things their way. It makes me better at my job. But it feeds an unfortunate narrative that lurks within the meetings, jokes and approach of many businesses - that the public are wrong.
There are three major issues with this underlying assumption: first, is the sense it breeds of being your company or team against the world. In some crisis situations that kind of camaraderie is useful but it isn’t a constructive way to run any organisation in the long term. We all operate in such an interconnected world that taking a continually hostile stance is guaranteed to undermine more opportunities than it creates.
Secondly, responding to criticism by assuming that the public/media/legislator/customer is wrong leads to a seriously unhealthy relationship with some of your most important stakeholders. If you go out for a nice meal tonight and ask your waiter if he could please turn off the air conditioning because your group is freezing, you expect him to take you seriously. What if, instead, he told you he had turned down the AC (when he hadn’t) and then told all his work buddies that you were a fantasist? Not good.
This brings us to our final and most important point: dismissing criticism as wrong, ignorant, muddled or just plain stupid stops you from addressing the problem. It may be that you need to work harder to understand the root of the complaint. Maybe they are criticising you for not doing enough for the environment when actually you are best in your sector. But ask yourself: have you actually told them that? And can you honestly say to yourself (really, truly) that best in your sector is good enough? Is that a pretty low benchmark?
For professionals like me to be really valuable to our clients, sometimes it falls to us to ask why the public should trust them if they are not prepared to act in a trustworthy manner.