I’ve wanted to write about this for a long time. Years, in fact. It wasn’t until a mentor of mine wrote about a similar experience in her business (and how she avoided writing about it) that a chord was struck within me and I realised that the anguish, anger and contempt my team and I might feel should not hold us back. That sharing this is important enough to rise above our personal feelings, because the lesson we took away was so powerful that if just one business owner or creative, or anyone at all, reads this and learns from it – that is the best thing that could possibly happen.

Don’t get me wrong – like my mentor, I have personally had to work hard to heal and the scars are still there. We have many lessons to learn and it’s taken years just to get to this point. But there is gold in heartache and talking about this and sharing is the first step towards growth.

And, likewise, talking about this is scary. Most people are afraid of how it might be received. Is this just another rant from a spoilt privileged business owner/rich person crying about mean things that are said in the playground? Harden up buttercup!

Whether you agree or not, if you truly, deeply care about what your business does then you naturally tie your identity to it. Your company is a reflection of you so when people disparage it, you take it personally – BECAUSE you care.

In fact, reading back over everything I had written in the past I can see that it was dotted with vitriol and anger – which meant that there was still more healing that I needed to do.

And this is where the mental scars come from. And how you respond (or don’t respond) makes all the difference between regression and growth and becoming a better person with a stronger business.

The reality is that if you feel the need to resort to lies and badmouthing to compete – then you have already lost the game.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. This is as much a learning for those on the sending end as those on the receiving end. Because as much as you need support to keep you on your mission, the ones sending out vitriol and hate are the ones that need help the most.

I sincerely hope the ones that need to read this most, actually do.

What it looks like

So to give you some background, our company, Red Robot, has had quite a lot of highly visible success that, unfortunately, causes envy. Multiple business awards, 10 years worth of experience and a large group of incredible customers, to us, means we must be doing something right, but to others it can look like we had it easy.

Many times people will downplay our achievements by undermining the awards but in truth having your entire company structure, your entire purpose for being and your profit & loss number scrutinised by entrepreneurs that are far more successful than you – and being plucked out as a winner among a field of thousands of worthy companies – yeah it was a piece of cake!

Nevertheless, having been in our industry for so long and having these achievements means that some see us as the top dogs. Controlling the industry and pulling the strings and ruining the efficacy of everything good and pure in the industry. It’s like the new kid in school who wants to be known so the first thing they do is pick a fight with the biggest kid in the playground. I’m not saying we are the biggest kid on the block but it doesn’t really matter – as long as they merely perceive you to be the big kid then you stand for everything they hate.

Over the years we have had the gamut of underhanded and shady tactics thrown our way. First, there are the deliberate lies – a potential customer speaks to us on the phone and says:

“Oh, XYZ competitor told me you were going out of business?”

Or “XYZ competitor told me you weren’t interested in customers here, only overseas ones?”

Or “XYZ competitor said that all your product was made in China?”

Or my personal favourite “XYZ said that your product was just a cheap knockoff of theirs”.

I never did understand this tactic because, obviously, we are talking to the same customer. Anything said to the customer will most likely get back to us. When we tell them the facts they can only end up questioning the accuracy of everything else they have been told. Your customers are smarter than you think and will see through the lies.

It’s also hard not to let your ego get inflated when countless customers of those same competitors come to you and admit that they have made no money from the product or service they bought, that it just wasn’t suitable, or that the quality wasn’t high enough. But you are better than that and that’s the exact reason they are coming to you for help.

Then there are the underhanded tactics which could be anything like:

  • Camping on one of your domains related to your business name for whatever nefarious purpose.
  • Making up rumours or mistruths and getting friends to spread them.
  • Writing up fake reviews.
  • Being very vocal and negative on social media posts about your company.
  • Generally trying to convince everyone in the industry that you are the devil and everything that’s wrong with the industry.

It’s very easy to take it personally, let it get to you and lose countless nights of sleep over the whole ordeal. And by the way, if this happens to you and you cop this kind of vitriol from multiple sources, then maybe you are doing something wrong. If it all stems from one or two competitors then there is definitely not something wrong with you or your company. The reality is that this is all about them and their issues.

What is really happening?

We can play this out all we like and blame ‘tall poppy syndrome’. Yes, we are successful, but success is subjective and the definition is different for everyone. Do people resent you and your company for achieving amazing things? Probably. But this is not the problem.

This is also about more than whether what they are saying is true or just complete utter lies. It’s about WHY they are doing it. Lashing out is lashing out regardless of what form it takes, whether it is rumours, fabrication, misinformation or just outright badmouthing (or using friends to do the badmouthing for them, using their friends like a human shield). I don’t blame them for lashing out because these things are all the symptoms, not the cause.

Likewise, with their friends that are spreading the misinformation, I don’t blame them. It’s not their fault they were lied to BUT it is their decision to blindly accepted mistruths as fact and decided to act on it without even trying to verify said ‘facts’. But what’s more is that this doesn’t even matter. Again, this is just another symptom – not the cause. The cause has more to do with what’s missing in their lives so that they get pleasure from being negative. At some point, they so desperately wanted to believe the negativity because it is more emotionally satisfying than reality. And that says more about their character than anything else.

Whatever your competitor does or says, it says more about them and their hardships than it does about you and your business. The reason for lashing out can be many and varied. Most likely it has absolutely nothing to do with you. It’s possible that they feel intimidated by your company and product offering and feel like they can’t compete – so they think bringing you down is the only option they have.

They may also have absolutely no conscience at all, are only in it to make money and copying your every move is quite a viable business model for them. The lies they need to tell themselves to justify their actions are more harmful than the lies they tell your customers.

It might be coming from a place of desperation: bills are stacking up, their profits are shrinking (or non-existent in the first place), their husband or wife is complaining that they are never home and never spend time with the kids, the house is being repossessed, staff are jumping ship in every direction… the list goes on.

It might be stemming from mental health issues, things are failing, this whole business thing is harder than they thought, motivation is waning, they judge themselves and depression is setting in. They are looking for someone to blame – you’re the most convenient choice.

The funny thing is that we have all been there. Whether we lashed out or not, I’m sure we can all relate.

How to deal with it

To directly quote my mentor: “The adrenaline and cortisol spikes that go with this kind of an event can cause real and lasting damage to your body – the burnout is real, kids”.

Letting this stuff fester will cause you more harm, so, deal with it you must. And how you deal with it mentally is the most important part. Being at peace is the most important thing for your health and your teams’.

The easiest way to react to a slap in the face is to slap right back. But easy is rarely wise or right. Make no mistake this is the worst thing you could possibly do and is most likely exactly what they want you to do. And even though you might have the evidence to completely unravel the lies, ruining someone’s reputation won’t do anyone any good. This won’t solve the problem, it’ll only inflame the symptoms. Don’t play into the trap!

Firstly, you need to understand that this isn’t about you – whatever kind of trouble or pain that they may be in, lashing out is a sign that they need help, whether they realise it or not. It’s easier to vent your frustration on someone else than to dig down and ask yourself the hard questions. At some point, they need to face the issues they have, acknowledge them and deal with them in order to grow – however hard this may be!

I’m not saying you should pity them, but understand that there are reasons behind this that aren’t clear to you. When a competitor makes deliberate jokes about running over one of our products with a car, personally it helps me to be at ease with what is being said or done whatever the source of his pain might be. This is the first critical step in rising above the pettiness of the situation, learning from it and finding that peace.

Secondly, you have a responsibility in this – It’s easy to spend countless nights thinking about what you could have possibly done wrong. Like any great entrepreneur, you are always thinking about ways to improve things. So if there is something you could do better then take that learning away. Could your customer service be better? Product delivery? Training? Vendor relationships? Whatever it is, you need to remember that this is not the cause, so don’t blame yourself. But use the opportunity to make your business stronger.

Third, you can only control what you do – and how you react to the situation. For us, this has been a journey in realising that there is only so much energy we have and focusing on the stress and anger is not helping anyone at all. Instead, we focus on love and gratitude for our incredible customers. We share our learnings with them, lead by example and work on improving what we deliver for them.

To quote my mentor again:

“All you can control is how you respond and who you become in the process.

If you focus on anger and resentment, you’ll become angry and resentful.

If you focus on love and gratitude, you’ll become loving and grateful.”

To add to this, if you focus on anger and resentment, you will also attract angry and resentful people – and the opposite is also true.

Lastly, if you are a rumour spinner or vitriol creationist – please know that there are people around you that love you and want to help. It’s easy to produce hate but it takes bravery to rise over your ego and make a decision:

Choose negativity or positivity?

Choose regression or growth?

Choose to be mediocre or be great?

The choice is yours.

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