Work + Growth

How to Handle a Negative Online Review


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  • It’s normal to feel anxious or angry when discovering a negative review written about you online. Resist the temptation to respond quickly and irritably
  • Before deciding how to respond, put your lawyerly skills to work and collect as much information as you can about who wrote the post and why
  • There’s no one right way to respond to a negative review. In fact, sometimes the best move is to not respond publicly at all

As lawyers, our reputations are important.

In fact, many argue that our reputations are the most important part of our careers. That’s a big part of why we’re likely to panic when we stumble upon negative online reviews.

No matter the circumstances that led to the critical review, it’s essential to handle your response appropriately. Unfortunately, law school doesn’t offer courses in how to do so.

The good news is, that’s what we’re here for. Here are the dos and don’ts of handling a negative online review.

Do: Take a second to breathe

It is completely normal to freak out when you first stumble upon something critical of you on the web. What’s crucial here is to take a second, step away, and calm down before you react.  Make sure you’re able to respond in a rational, appropriate manner ahead of taking any action.

Don’t: React immediately

When you first find a negative review, you’ll likely feel angry or anxious – it doesn’t take a genius to tell you you’re not going to be at your best. It’s extremely important to resist the urge to react right away; most likely, if you quickly and angrily respond, things will only get worse.

Do: Investigate

At work, it’s your job to make sure you have all the facts, right? You’re going to want to put on your “lawyer hat” here, too. To the best of your ability, work to find out who left the review and why. Was it a client? A competitor? Is the complaint legitimate? Could it possibly be a mistake? Gather as much information as you can about the reviewer and their reasoning.

Don’t: Assume the worst

As mentioned above: Facts are key in this situation. Don’t assume that the review was written by a competitor who’s out to get you or a client trying to get out of paying their fees. You know that old saying about what happens when you assume? Don’t let that happen.

Do: Decide to take action

Once you have all the possible information about what led to the post, it’s time to decide how best to appropriately respond. Does it make the most sense to contact the poster directly? Should you simply flag the review for the site’s administrators to remove? There are a number of possible outcomes here, but …

Don’t: Decide to take action

… it might not be worth it to do anything. Or, as much as it pains you to admit it, the review might be warranted. Based on your specific situation, it could make sense to leave everything alone. This is especially true if the review is buried under more recent, positive reviews or is on an unpopular site that most people won’t see anyway.

Do: Respond appropriately

There are two primary ways you can respond to a negative review: Reach out to the reviewer to discuss the matter privately or respond publicly on the forum on which the review was posted. Which avenue you choose depends on a number of factors, not limited to whether the complaint is legitimate and the client is reasonable.

If you choose to respond in a post of your own, be sure to run a draft by some colleagues – since they’re distanced from the issue, they’ll be more neutral in their evaluation and can call attention to potential issues. The goal here is for any readers of your post to be impressed by how you responded, and it can be helpful to keep that in mind as you write your response.

Don’t: Break the rules

If the negative review was posted by a client, remember that the rules of your professional relationship still apply. If you elect to respond publicly, do not include any information that was provided to you confidentially. While you should absolutely strive to respond as professionally as you can, it is imperative that you also stick to the rules, even if something would help explain away the reviewer’s complaints.

We’ve all read responses to online reviews, and generally recognize a professionally appropriate one when we see it. What details–tone, content, etc.–most stand out to you when you notice a well-handled response to a review?

Do: Know when to disengage

If your response opens the door to an ongoing, unfruitful public argument, it’s time to move on. It can be tempting to get sucked into an online back and forth – especially if your credibility is what’s being debated – but at a certain point, it’s no longer worth it. If your response is met with even more negativity, the best thing to do is take the high road and instead channel your energy into burying the negative review with new positive ones.

Don’t: Fight with trolls

To reiterate the advice above, it’s important to know when to step away. We all encounter internet trolls every now and then, and it’s never worth it to engage with them. Your energy is better spent elsewhere.