Successfully responding to online allegations

March 5, 2020
Michael Toebe

Retain your poise and respond with empathy.

The most highly critical online reviews often come as a complete surprise to physicians and practices, especially when the comments attack character and humanity.

How does one protect against being blindsided by such aggression and then respond most wisely and successfully to it? 

First, let’s look at a wild story as an example: Doctor sues over ex-worker’s bad Google review. “The suit is seeking $1 million in damages for defamation and an additional $1 million for breach of contract,” reports the New York Post.

Trending: The basics of physician compensation

The employee, Shannon Marcano, was clearly unhappy and harboring burning resentment, to the point she wanted to inflict pain on her former employer, the practice, and a co-worker (Dr. Deborah Rosenthal). That’s white-hot anger.

Marcano used the social media platform as a weapon, communicating what she observed and knew or maybe perceived was unethical, fraudulent business practices, a doctor’s lack of emotional intelligence and unprofessional behavior, while also issuing a verbal and psychological assault on an unsuspecting co-worker.

The resulting problems linked to the attack are many:

  • The need for healing for the employee ridiculed, and a strategy to restore workplace psychological safety 

  • Conflict between some patients and Dr. Deborah Rosenthal

  • Potential loss of relationships and revenue with some patients and the privilege to serve them

  • Stress and emotional pain for the practice owner (Rosenthal) over the embarrassment and humiliation, as well as the lawsuit she filed to defend, protect, and restore her professional reputation

  • Potential regulatory or legal scrutiny towards Rosenthal’s practice

Read More: Designing Your New Medical Office Space

Rosenthal’s response

To Rosenthal’s credit and wisdom, she did not speak poorly of Marcano to the media reporting on the dispute. This was intelligent and a show of self-control under duress, as it would have poured gas on the conflict fire.

Rosenthal has maintained her poise-it allows for clearer thinking. 

She has decided to file a legal action against her accuser that likely was rooted in both fear for the well-being of her emotional and physical health as well as her practice. It also likely was intended to intimidate and retaliate against Rosenthal’s accuser - Marcano.

Was it the best idea, or would meditation and negotiation have worked better? Those two approaches could benefit both sides by offering privacy, greater autonomy, and a wider range of potential solutions.

 

Respond wisely, empathetically

  • Did Rosenthal respond online, with poise, empathy, and patience to Marcano’s Google review?

  • Has the doctor responded to her employees with transparency and emotional intelligence, including compassion, especially towards the team member who was insulted on Google by Marcano? Has Rosenthal assured that the employee will defend her reputation? 

  • Has Rosenthal created poised, humble, detailed content for her website (assuming she has one) that speaks with transparency to the allegations and the ugliness of the dispute with the former employee? Does such content speak to the very human emotions and concerns that patients likely are experiencing?

  • Has she made herself available to discuss the allegations and patients’ emotional reactions if it has been requested, or has she declined? 

The content and conversations described above are the types of professional, empathetic responses often expected and desired in a reputation crisis. Not every patient will believe the allegations, but any that do require the communication and the human touch of sensitivity, honesty, and full disclosure. 

Rosenthal is operating from a position of great strength if she communicates promptly with poise; avoids defensiveness; and displays consistent patience, empathy, and understanding. 

In fact, this surprisingly is an opportunity to strengthen Rosenthal’s reputation as a person and that of her practice if the response is handled skillfully. 

As much as a court judgment might feel like vindication and victory for a physician and practice, what could prove more effective is problem solving together with the aggrieved former employee as a partner in collaboration.

Do this and build them “a golden bridge” as William Ury described in Getting Past No, to help you get what you want (i.e. an online correction or follow up that is complementary and, ideally, retracts falsehoods and negativity, or mentions the conflict has been resolved to the party’s satisfaction).

Michael Toebe is a reputation relations and crisis management specialist, writer and publisher of the Red Diamonds Newsletter and host of the Reputation Talk podcast.