When The Competition Gets Nasty

The sports media and social networks are a buzz today with talk of Richard Sherman’s audacious post game interview with Erin Andrews of Fox Sports following his Seattle team’s win of the NFC championship which sent them to the Superbowl. Arrogant, disrespectful and classless are some of the terms being thrown around by critics.

If you haven’t seen it yet, It’s a gem.

While Sherman’s outburst could have been a bit more, hmmm, elegant, some of his defenders claim that in sports this kind of emotional tirade can be expected and even welcome. Part of the passion of the game comes from having deep emotions about your opponent. The trash talk and heated banter are part of the rivalry and serve to ‘psyche’ up fans and players alike.

Is the same true for businesses? Should businesses pay attention to their competitors, trash talk about each other and exchange verbal blows to keep customers, employees and other stakeholders excited? Is it ok, as part of aggressive competition, to say anything about your opponent?

It so happens, we had to deal with this issue today at OwnerListens. We woke up to find one of our competitors posted a nasty message on our Facebook page accusing us of something. Business owners out there who have experienced waking up to a bad   review or a negative post about their business know how terrible this feels. Someone     is bad mouthing the business you’ve worked so hard to build and thousands of people can see it.

Since the post was on our Facebook wall, we had the following options:

  • Respond to the message on Facebook and explain why the accusation is false which would probably lead to more back and forth with this competitor
  • Erase the Facebook post and ignore the entire incident
  • Erase the Facebook post and message the competitor privately

As I was pondering these options early in the morning, I was not only thinking about how our customers and supporters will react but also about how our team would react. Would starting a public Facebook feud get them as excited as Richard Sherman about beating the competition? Could this incident be used to give an extra boost the team’s fervor for success?

Realizing that the longer I wait the more exposure the nasty post is getting, I had to make a decision quickly. There was no time to consult the team or call a mentor. I chose to erase the post and message the competitor privately. In my message I asked them not to post baseless accusatory messages on our Facebook page but rather message me directly if he ever had a comment or question about our actions.

I believe it was the right call and it was actually fairly easy to make. All I had to do was look back at the values of our company. OwnerListens is about criticizing privately and praising publicly. We are about solving disagreements civilly through respectful dialogue. We are about giving businesses and consumers the benefit of the doubt and listening to their point of view before passing judgment.

Our mission is not like the missions of sports teams or athletes preparing for a game. A game has a binary outcome (win or lose). A game is over and the team moves on to the next game and then the next season. A business is playing a long term, repeat game. It is building a relationship based on trust and values with its customers, employees, investors and even its competitors.

This is not to say that we won’t ferociously compete with our rivals. Rest assured we definitely will. We will study their strengths and weaknesses, we will learn from them and we will do everything we can to be better than them. But, what we won’t do is turn back on our values or lose focus on our customers.

As the leader of this team, the last thing I want is for my team to focus on competitors. I want my team to focus on the mission of delighting customers, the mission of improving service everywhere through feedback, listening and dialogue, the mission of eradicating public disparagement from our internet culture. My team has a fierce desire to do their best to execute on this mission and distracting them from it would lower our chances of success.

It’s fitting that this happened on Martin Luther King Jr. Day just as we scheduled a post of one of his quotes:

“Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”


What are you thoughts on this? Have you used a competing business to energize your team?

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