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He Won’t Stop Bad Mouthing Me

He Won’t Stop Bad Mouthing Me

Question: reputation management

Our small business relies on its reputation. For years, we’ve contracted to provide services to a large Alaskan company. When we needed IT services, “Bob,” one of this company’s employees let us know he could help us “on the side.”

Although we realized Bob’s company had a “no moonlighting policy” and Bob helped us  out during the workday – when he was supposedly working fulltime for his employer, we used him because we really needed his skills. We talked with Bob about this and he talked us out of being worried.

A year later, we hired a new IT provider and cancelled Bob’s retainer. Bob retaliated, filing an ethics complaint against us with his employer.

They investigated us and cleared us of wrongdoing. In the process, we told them Bob probably filed the complaint because we ended his retainer.  After we showed them the year’s worth of cancelled checks written to Bob, they suspended and demoted him.

Bob got another job but still works with many of our customers and bad-mouths our firm every chance he gets. We’ve tried to ignore Bob but Anchorage is a small town and our reputation is suffering. We recently called him and told him when he slanders us people let us know, giving us a chance to explain the whole situation. We said “ten years is too long for a grudge, how about a truce.” He ranted at us and hung up.

Answer:

You “bloodied Bob’s nose 10 years ago and like a bulldog holding on to your pants’ leg, he refuses to let go” says trial litigator turned HR consultant Rick Birdsall. “Likely he’s a bully and when bad things happen to bullies, they blame their misfortune on others. Heaven forbid Bob accept personal responsibility for his demotion.”

According to Birdsall, telling Bob some of the mud he tosses at you splashes back on him won’t work. “Because bullies focus on harming their intended target, you can’t expect one to think strategically.” Instead, Bob may have derived pleasure from your call and request for a truce – it showed him he’d gotten to you and you wanted to cave instead of standing up to him.

Birdsall suggests you “go for the knock out. Even if you don’t succeed, let Bob he’s in for a fight if he continues taking you on so he thinks twice about doing so.”

While ignoring Bob’s bad-mouthing may seem safer, it won’t give you what you want. He’s slandered you for a decade. His accusations have undoubtedly harmed your business reputation with some of those who’ve listened to him, particularly the ones who haven’t let you know the stories they’ve heard.

If you continue the ignoring route, Birdsall suggests you hand a “professionally written press release to anyone who tells you they’ve heard Bob’s accusations. This gives you the ability to rapidly respond and might even turn the ‘opportunities’ Bob gives you,” says Birdsall, “into positive public relations.” If you decide on this, have legal counsel help you write the statement. Anything written can come back to bite you should Bob accuse you of slander.

Finally, Bob clearly saw your outing him as retaliation – even if he initially filed the complaint. Meanwhile, your hands weren’t clean. You did business with someone you recognized had poor ethics. According to you Bob cheated his employer and you colluded with him even though they were one of your customers. Whenever you “turn a blind eye” to someone who cheats another person, you take a huge risk. One day they may turn on you, as Bob did.

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Lynne Curry, Ph.D., SPHR and owner of the Alaska-based management consulting firm, The Growth Company Inc. consults with companies and individuals to create real solutions to real workplace challenges. Their services include HR On-call (a-la-carte HR), investigations, mediation, management/employee training, executive coaching, 360/employee reviews and organizational strategy services. You can reach Lynne @ www.thegrowthcompany.com, via her workplace 911/411 blog, www.workplacecoachblog.com or @lynnecurry10 on twitter.

One Comment


  1. Lynn, really good article. Will you provide more detail about the press release you suggest? What would it say?

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