Eventually in any business you’re most likely going to upset someone. Most level headed people can deal with displeasure or disappointment in an appropriate manner but there are others who will take it one step too far such as a toxic customer or an emotionally unstable associate.
Many of these toxic people may be miserable in their own lives for whatever the reason and you may end up being the target they explode on. Those who tend to have things going for them and are happy overall don’t have the time of day to react negatively to much. Emotional intelligence involves keeping emotions under control. This seems to be absent in toxic people.
The supplier became fixated on me personally and began doing things to attempt to harm my personal reputation. This included contacting customers he was aware we do business with which scared some of them, planting “anonymous” defamatory articles on websites, threatening me via text or email and harassing phone calls all hours of the night and speaking in different voices. Yes, speaking in voices (think exorcist) not a different language. He even threatened physical harm to my child. With this being the first time this behavior was displayed in years of business, I was quite taken back.
Being that this supplier is overseas there is not much one can do in order to stop this kind of malicious behavior. So is any real recourse is available? In the age where one can hide behind a keyboard and attempt to ruin you they can at will. There are even step by step web pages online who teach people how to ruin an “enemies” reputation.
How does an entrepreneur deal with defamation when you cannot reason with an emotionally toxic individual? How can you deal with the distraction of someone who may be overly negative, irrational and desperate for any form of attention? Going through this experience has opened my eyes and I have compiled a list of ten things entrepreneurs can do when faced with a situation that is toxic.
#10. Accept you can’t change what has happened and deal with it immediately.
While your first reaction may be anger; take a step back and put everything into perspective. Your immediate priority should be anyone who may be affected explaining your situation no matter how embarrassing it may seem at the time.
You can try contacting websites slander is posted on but you may find some will demand cash and try to bully you into signing up for useless programs to “repair your reputation”. A lot of these sites are run by borderline “scammers” themselves.
#9. Take the time to reflect on your own behavior.
Do you have skills and approaches that create positive, mutually beneficial business relationships? This is about building your skills, not blaming yourself for what occurred. How can you set better boundaries next time? What can you improve to not set one of these ticking time bombs off? A toxic person is a co-dependent. They need you to engage to keep going.
#8. You may want to consider involving law enforcement if it is serious enough.
If outright lies are posted and you can identify who posted them you may want to consider legal action against them for damages they have caused you. If they are spreading defamation on social media outlets you can file reports with those platforms. This involves some back and forth and a process but they are usually very accommodating and do not want the defamation on their platforms as much as you don’t. It may also be easier to identify the people responsible on these outlets.
#7. Do not try to address every accusation or negative thing said.
The way the internet works you will have people who you have no business with joining on just because they find it fun. Other sites will pick up the nonsense and before you know it is on ten sites. You do not owe these people any form of a response. Focus on real solutions and not wasting time on people who have never even met you saying something negative. All they will do is try to pull you into their negative spiral.
These may be the type of people who have run from confrontation in the real world and find a sense of power online and it is now their turn to become the bully. The root of their real problem most likely has nothing to do with you so don’t take things personally.
#6. Immediately cease all communication with the person doing this (if you are aware who they are).
It may seem like you may be able to work things out and in some cases you may be able to but it can also make things a LOT worse. Negotiation can lead to extortion in no time. You cannot reason with someone who cannot reason with themselves. You cannot engage in further conversation with someone who has a track record of emotional instability. Once they have displayed it once…RUN!
#5. Though the emotional and financial stresses are real, resist the temptation to work even more over time to right things.
Schedule some time (and keep it), even if not a lot, to be with people and do some things other than business. Don’t let someone who stays up all night furiously spreading negativity keep you from losing any sleep. Sleeping is vital for problem solving and the lack of it will prevent you from thinking rationally and make you more susceptible to instinctive responses. Don’t let them take away your joy. The only thing a toxic person wants to do is bring you down and make you feel bad because they are unhappy in life. So go out, grab a beer, hit the gym, or do whatever you enjoy doing. Don’t let go of your accomplishments and happiness.
#4. Learn to identify toxic people and AVOID AT ALL COSTS even if it is a short term loss for business.
Broaden your understanding of human behavior. The causes of bizarre, destructive or irrational behavior can be many. You don’t need to become a therapist but understanding some basics may assist you in future situations. Take steps to rise above and avoid situations like this in the future. Treat people like a science project. Watch how they deal with problems from a distance. Don’t engage in any form of business with someone you have concerns about.
A few warning signs toxic people tend to display are:
- Creating drama or making small problems large ones
- Gossiping or constantly caring what others are doing when it is none of their business
- Up and down behaviors
- Lack of empathy for others
- Constantly projecting blame on someone else
- Refusal of responsibility
#3. Use your support system.
Don’t think you can deal with everything alone by ignoring it or not letting others know what is happening to you. Often outside minds can look at things from a different perspective and assist with solutions that you may not be able to see at that time. Your first instinct will most likely be to keep things quiet and not say anything but this can create more problems. Engage your support system immediately when you feel a line has been crossed and ask for advice.
#2. Stand up for yourself. Be vocal.
Don’t let some pathetic bully harass you online if you wouldn’t stand for it in person. Don’t give them the They are genuinely sad and needy people and so deeply crave your attention that you will almost start to feel bad for them as the behavior is fairly pathetic. There is a real problem with someone that feeds off this and they probably need some help. Once they have set their sights on you however, you’re not the one who can offer this.
Are you really going to let something your blood, sweat, tears (and cash) are in be effected by this? However tempting, and deserved, resist seeing yourself as a victim. That will color your conversations, business relationships and maybe even how you plan your business going forward.
#1 Most importantly; Succeed at what you’re doing.
Success proves anything ever written negatively wrong. Remember that success is rarely accomplished without upsetting someone at some point along the way. The only person who can hold you back is yourself. You cannot let these toxic people have an effect on your performance. Shut them out of your mind and pay them no attention. They will see they get nothing out of you and move on to the next who will engage them soon enough.
Liam Massaubi is the co-founder of Kanati Company, a Canadian-based menswear label, retailer and manufacturer. He also provides design and consultation to other labels and businesses.
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