Spokane, my adopted hometown, is in the national news this morning. A new bar, The Downtown Daiquiri Factory, posted its grand opening menu on Facebook – including a drink called the “Date Grape Koolaid.” For those of you who aren’t up on the latest euphemisms, “Date Grape” refers to having sex with someone after they’ve drunk too much wine. Ugh. Mind you, owner Jamie “Babyface” Pendleton insisted the bar would target the overlooked young female demographic, and the general managers has insisted that they “cater to women.” Riiiiiiiiiiiiight.

I won’t rehash the details. You can read all about it and see screen captures here at the Spokesman Review and here via Heidi Groover at the Inlander here.

Suffice it to say, Facebook exploded.

And then the internet exploded. 
And now there’s a protest planned, with over a hundred people (and climbing!) planning to attend. 
Like most panicky new businesses, the company had been deleting negative comments from their Facebook page – a telling action for a company that keeps insisting that the name is just a joke and people shouldn’t be so touchy.  They’ve shared links to a MADtv sketch using the term. They’ve argued that there are plenty of drinks named after crude names for genitals – which somehow makes it totally ok for them to use a date rape reference. They’ve proudly posted links to the local newspaper’s coverage (because there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right????). I imagine the owner, Mr. Pendleton, has heard about big clubs in major metro areas that thrived under sex-charged controversy – never mind that Spokane is a small city that prides itself on topping annual “Best Place to Raise a Family” lists. Trust me – Los Angeles, we are not.    
They just don’t seem to believe they’re in crisis, because keep insisting that the problem is caused by their audience’s character flawsthey’re too touchy, they can’t take a joke, they’re making a big deal about nothing, they can’t mind their own business. It seems the management thinks they are being unfairly persecuted by a conspiracy of unintelligent, ignorant, humorless strangers.

They’re illustrating what I call the “Accidental Ouch” principle. 

It goes something like this:

When you step on someone’s toe – whether you meant to or not – they get hurt. When they say “Ouch!” do you snap “I didn’t mean to! Stop being so sensitive! You’re making a big deal about nothing!” and then laugh at them crying?  

No. That would make you colossal troll and disgust everyone within earshot. There’s a good chance it would also earn you a right hook and few lost teeth. 

Like any decent human being, you gasp and say “I’m so sorry! Are you okay? How can I help?

If you’re in business and have any kind of contact with the public, you are going to do something that upsets people at some point. You’ll do something you thought was totally normal, or crack a joke you think is hilarious – and you’ll be met by a crowd of angry people who look or think or live differently from you; they’ll be telling you that you’re ignorant, you’re inappropriate, that you hurt them and did real damage to something important. And you won’t understand, because you haven’t experienced what they’ve experienced. 
You’ll feel unfairly attacked. 
Your chest will feel tight.
Your instincts will tell you to attack them back.  That instinct will be even stronger if their outrage threatens a business you’ve put your heart and soul and life savings into. 
You’re going to think that the angry people are threats to be squashed.
You’re going to tell yourself that a good offense is the best defense. 
And you will be wrong

Of course you didn’t intend to hurt anyone. You were just walking along, minding your own businesses, focused on where you were going and what you needed to do. You totally just didn’t see their foot there. Really, truly, you aren’t the kind of person who wanders around the world intentionally hurting strangers!
But in business as well as in life, good intentions are not an insurance policy against hurting others.  So you’re going to step on toes –  really stomp on them, sometimes – and those people are going to feel real pain. Some will just throb a little and shrug it off. And some scream out because you shattered an old injury that was just starting to heal. Whether it was accidental or not, a broken bone hurts the same. Your job is not to say “You’re over reacting! There’s no way it hurts that much. Stop whining! You’re making me look bad!” It’s to keep saying “I’m so sorry! Are you okay? How can I help?”

The Accidental Ouch Principle is really about insecurity.

So many unnecessary crises happen this way – when business owners respond to public complaints with defensiveness and distrust, automatically answering criticism with aggression, comebacks, and retorts. It’s a backward approach, as if they think the customers have to earn respect from the company, instead of the other way around. Years have taught me that when business owners react to criticism the way Mr. Pendleton has, their defensiveness is a desperate attempt to hide insecurity.

Oh yes. The most insecure business owners are also the most defensive. They counter even the slightest hint of criticism with sarcasm, anger, and personal attacks – trying to intimidate others into silence. They must constantly protect themselves from having their shortcomings exposed, from any perceived threats to their ego. Most of them are scared of failure, because deep down they’re not really sure how to recover from them. They don’t trust themselves – or their customers – to forgive and learn from their mistakes. They try to justify ignoring the complaints by insisting that people are doing it for selfish or malicious reasons: “They’re jealous of my success. They’re busy bodies. They can’t take a joke. They’re playing the victim card. They’re negative people” – all of which boil down to “I am don’t have to listen to them because they inferior human beings.” Distrust breeds more distrust.

But the situation isn’t all distrust and doom. Jason Watson, a business associate of Mr. Pendleton, posted a response to the crisis last night that showed exactly how to earn trust in a crisis. Mr. Watson owns Smoov Cutz, a local barber shop. Smoov Cuts is like the beauty and barber shops where I grew up in Virginia – a family-focused, community hub where you see friends and build real relationships. As the Inlander explained, Smoov Cuts and Mr. Watson are affiliated with the bar – and his Facebook response was as amazing as Mr Pendleton’s was offensive. 

image via The Inlander
original post via Smoov Cutz Facebook page here
Consider this: Where Downtown Daiquiri Factory’s posts were focused on defending the bar from criticism, Mr. Watson showed compassion and concern for his customers and community. Where Downtown Daiquiri Factory made fun of customers, Mr. Watson showed them respect. And while they wer busy deleting comments and revealing how scared they were of negative feedback, Mr. Watson was publicly embracing their feedback and inviting them to give him more. Mr. Watson trusted his customers were telling him the truth when they said something was wrong and dangerous. This bar stomped on the public’s proverbial toe with big, heavy, steel-toed boots and started yelling at everyone to stop making a scene – while Mr. Watson is busy calling for ice and a splint.
Each complaint, each mistake is an opportunity to show the public that they can trust you. Your business can only thrive if your target market believes you are responsible, honest, and trusty-worthy. That’s why Mr. Watson’s response was so powerful. He showed Spokane that they can trust him, because he trusts them

When You Mess Up (Because You WILL Mess Up)…

When you step on the public’s proverbial toe, when they’re crying in pain and everyone is looking at you and that anxious tingling starts in your sternum and you feel yourself leaping into fight or flight mode – JUST STOP.  Remember that business is about trust – and trust can’t be won in an argument. It has to be earned through action and acknowledgement. You can’t earn it if you’re busy trying to make the other guys look bad for daring to say “Ow!” It’s not really about you – it’s about them – and you need to check your embarrassment and ego. You need to say “I’m so sorry! Are you okay? How can I help?” over and over again, until you earn back their trust. 
It’s the only way you CAN earn it back. 

Have a  comment? Want to ask me a question? I respond to all comments personally. You can also reach me via e-mail: meredith@me2-solutions.com or with my Twitter handle @thequalitygirl .
You can follow Meredith and Frank via the Me2 Facebook page and official Twitter.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.