Posting online can be a scary thing – and as a business owner, even more so. People are going to see what you’re saying and thinking, and nothing ever stays without consequences.

And yes, chances are, if you show up on the regular, you might get called out or receive backlash for something you posted online at some point in your career.

By the end of this post, you’ll know the difference between being called out and being cancelled – spoiler: the latter doesn’t really exist and can be easily avoided, and I’m going to teach you how.

Getting called out is NOT the end of the world, or your career. And it’s not being cancelled, either. The truth is, when someone got “cancelled”, they did that to themselves. The way YOU choose to respond to negative feedback, shitstorms or callouts will decide wether your reputation will improve or be damaged.

I know, being called out can be very uncomfortable. After all, your intend was never to hurt anyone and having to argue with people.

but it’s part of an important journey – and being called out to do better is actually an amazing opportunity to learn & do better.

So what do you do when someone calls you out on what your said on your social media, website or on an in-person event? Let’s go over a simple process that will help you turn this incident into something positive for you and the people around you.

1. Take a deep breath.

You might feel like getting defensive and giving a fast reply right away. But it’s very important that you sit with whatever you’re being accused of and reflect on it. Do they have a point?

No matter what your initial feeling is, don’t act on it instantly. Take your time to cool off, and come back to it a few hours or even a day later.

Remember, you’re representing your business, not the private person you are. Reactiveness and defensiveness are the things that will make you look unprofessional and can turn a call-out or a shitstorm into a lasting damage for your business.

2. Get your ego out of the game.

This is not about you personally or your worth as a person. It’s about your behavior. Sit with it and try to be empathetic. Try to see the other persons perspective. If you’re being accused of reproducing any kind of – ism, chances are, you acted with the bias of your own a blind spots. It’s possible that you actually did make a mistake here. Take your time to acknowledge and accept that – it’s human to make mistakes, and you’ll be alright as long as you prove that you are able to learn an do better.

3. Listen.

Instead of pushing all call-outs and accusations away with a “how dare you call me out, I’m a good person!!”, sit down and take it all in. If you don’t understand or see where you might have gone wrong, do some research and ask questions to the person or community calling you out.

Some good examples are:

„Could you recommend me a source to educate myself on this topic, so that I can do better in the future?“

„Your concerns are being heard – and we are currently taking steps to evaluate how this mistake could have been avoided and how to to better from now on.“

And then, actually do the work, check your privileges and biases, check your blind spots. Read articles and posts about the matter, and seek out the statements and voices of the people whose feet you might have stepped on.

4 Formulate a statement.

For this step, you also want to take your time. Write it out somewhere offline before posting it.

Here’s what your statement should contain: 

  • Give thanks to the people who pointed out that what you did was wrong. Even though it might have made you feel bad for a while, it’s actually a valuable lesson and a great opportunity to do better as a person and to perform better as a business. 
  • acknowledge making a mistake. Own up to it. You said what you said, and now you’re dealing with the consequences like a grownup. You can word it something along the lines of “I / we realized that this post was in bad taste.”
  • Apologize. And do it truly. Avoid phrases like “I’m sorry I was misunderstood” or “I’m sorry if my words hurt anybody”. Those are not real apologies, since they place the responsibility for the hurt feelings on the other person. It will probably  sting to say it, but an honest “I’m / we’re sorry for the pain our mistake/ behavior / post inflicted” is the only way it won’t sound like you’re trying to gaslight.
  • Show change of behavior and that you learned the lesson. Tell them what you will do to do better in the future. This can be signing up for a workshop, reading a book, following accounts that educate on the topic – and actually do it. Empty promises will make you look like a hypocrite. Making a promise and keeping it will establish trust in your brand. Depending on how “big” the hurt and the backlash you caused was, it might be in good taste to make a donation to an organization that stands for the group of people your post might have harmed. 

I know, all this sounds uncomfortable and exhausting. But keep in mind that your words and actions are probably the reason someone else felt humiliated, belittled or attacked.

It might be tempting to simply block everyone who is criticizing your online behavior and move on with your life – but if you opt for that, you’re missing out on an amazing opportunity to become a better person and having a better business. All the people criticizing you right now might become your clients one day, if you show up and do better.

By actually tending to the complaints of problematic behavior, you prove that you’re able & willing to do what is needed to make all your potential clients feel safe and appreciated with you.

Did you ever experience a backlash on anything you posted online? How did you handle it, and what did you learn from it?

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