There is an old adage that tells us there are two sides to every story. How true: nothing is ever black and white. Last week there was much written about Mother Teresa of Calcutta, dividing opinion across the globe. To some she was a selfless Christian who gave her life to working with the poorest of Calcutta’s street people; they credit her with a healing miracle and the Vatican is expected to proclaim her a saint. Yet to others, she treated the sick and the dying in poor conditions, deprived them of medicine when she had access to the fortune at her disposal. She preferred to pray for their souls and celebrate their journey onto heaven and used the funds she had received for her mission to advance the Catholic Church’s resolute opposition to birth control and abortion.
We are often put in this position: faced with two diametrically opposed views and not always sure which, if indeed either, is the truth. Many people in Venezuela are said to have worshipped their President, Hugo Chávez, and are deeply traumatised by his recent death, yet others saw him as a profligate leader who bought votes from the poor by taking from the rich. Osama Bin Laden, Sadam Hussein and Colonel Gadaffi were idolised by their supporters, but vilified by their opponents in the West.
In business, things are rarely so focused on the cult of one individual, but depending on the perspective of the spectator, strong feelings can still be elicited. It is impossible to be liked by all of the people all of the time, but giving them access to several viewpoints, there is a chance that some sort of balance can be achieved.
When only one side of the story is presented it is sometimes hard to imagine what the counter arguments might have been. I saw a company’s Facebook page the other day that was filled with customer posts, almost all of which criticised the service they had received, listing and sharing grievances with unrestrained glee. No attempt had been made by the company, on whose Facebook page they were posting, to explain, reason or apologise. There was not a single post to refute the allegations, leaving only one side of the story told. Knowing what to do in these circumstances ensures a business can minimise the long term impact. Georgie Cameron wrote a recent blog which deals with how to handle complaints on social media sites. After all, if Mother Teresa can be dubbed ‘Hell’s Angel’ by documentary maker Christopher Hitchens, negative publicity can happen to the best of us.