Pennies From Heaven

The birds in my neighborhood like to poop on my car. I’m not saying this to impress you, I’m only telling you what happens.

Each morning, when I come out to go to my office, my car is covered. No matter what part of the driveway I park in, and regardless of who else’s truck, bicycle, baseball glove or Frisbee is lying next to it in plain sight, my car is the only thing that gets hit.

I have to admit that there was a time when I found this extremely annoying. Not only did it take time and effort to remove each day’s delivery, but I was frankly more than a little bit angry at the birds themselves. After all, I figured, shouldn’t my efforts at keeping the bird feeder filled with free food earn me some kind of fecal exemption?

Lately however, I’m proud to say that I’ve adopted what I think is a more enlightened point of view. Instead of viewing these daily occurrences as assaults , I simply consider them “interactions”– part of my overall relationship with the birds. On any given day, I give them food; they play near the kitchen window; the dog chases them; they sing in the morning and yes, they also poop on my car.

Why am I telling you this? I’m so glad you asked. I mention it today because the bird poop of newsletter publishing is nasty reader feedback. You give away free, no strings attached information to anybody who wants it and some people still go out of their way to send back unfriendly, antagonistic comments.

And while your instinctive reaction may be to fire off an equally nasty response, I urge you to reconsider. Instead, I offer three suggestions for dealing with these uncalled for but inevitable bombs:

• Don’t respond immediately. In the heat of the moment, you may have trouble maintaining your composure. Give it a couple of days however, and you’ll find it much easier to send back a reply that’s evenhanded and professional, and that reflects the way you want to come across to the world.

• Don’t feel obligated to engage in a debate. In my experience, the people who send these are eager to argue over some point with which they disagreed. You’re welcome to do so if you want, but just remember that you don’t have to defend your position to anybody. When I get one of these I usually just thank the writer for writing, wish him/her well and leave it at that. It takes two people to have an argument (unless you’re married), and you’re not obligated to participate.

• Consider it part of the overall “reader relationship.” Like bird poop (sorry, you probably thought I had left that metaphor behind), you can view these as isolated incidents sent down to ruin your day, or realize that in the overall context of publishing a newsletter, it’s a small negative among so many positives. If you’re going to voice an opinion, some people will disagree, and some of those people will handle it badly.

A true story:

A few years ago I received one of these missiles from a reader who took exception with something I had said about the industry in which she worked. To me it was an offhand comment, but to her it was a direct attack, and she pulled no punches in telling me how wrong I was.

I sat right down and wrote my response, also filled with anger. I told her she was welcome to unsubscribe from this no-cost publication if she didn’t feel she was, “getting her money’s worth,” and made sure to throw in a few lines about her ignorance and inevitable failure as a marketer.

Then, just as I was about to hit the send button. . . I went to lunch instead. When I got back an hour later, I found that I had an entirely different perspective. I simply thanked her for her comments and told her I was sorry things were so tough at the time in her company.

You know how the story ends. She came back with the nicest reply you could imagine, confiding further about the stress she had been under, and apologizing up and down for taking it out on me.

But here’s the best part. Six months later, her company hired me, and they’ve gone on to become one of my best clients. In fact, I later found out that although her department had nothing to do with the decision to bring me on, she had personally gone out of her way to lobby in my favor. I still shudder to think how much money that one e-mail I never sent would have cost me.

Bottom Line: 99% of the people you come in contact with are going to be as nice as can be, but every once in a while, somebody’s going to try and poop on your car. Don’t let it throw you and don’t get drawn into somebody else’s bad day. Who knows, resisting the natural urge to fight back might even earn you a new client now and then!

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