Managing Lies, Gossip, and Misinformation

Perhaps this post should be renamed Slander, Libel, and a Total Lack of Integrity

Recently I received some unsettling information from a trusted resource (A long time Customer).  I found out as a direct result of a conversation that this person had that one of our competitors was maliciously spreading rumors about our company.  Come to find out that these rumors were spread to not only a few of our customers but also to a number of our valued supply chain partners.

So here I sat, with the feedback of a loyal customer who came to me both out of disgust (for how the competitor acted) as well as concern asking me some hard questions about our company. (In the event any of this was true)

The good news was that none of what the customer was told was true.

The bad news was that I had to make a difficult choice with significant risk either way.

  • Choice 1: Be diplomatic, act with high integrity and seek the customers trust; risking the customer suspect validity to the rumors since I refuse to aggressively combat them.
  • Choice 2: Go on the defensive, Play their game and get involved in a war of wits.  (In this case winning the battle would be like beating your 6 year old in a foot race and then trying to brag about it)

Bottom line, there is no winning here.  Moreover, I seriously hate the childish antics that surround defending disingenuous information.

Nevertheless, this type of information can certainly collateral damage and as senior management the choice of response carries risk.

When you operate in a competitive environment, negative dialogue happens all the time. For some companies it is their strategy.  While not a good one, it can work if they play to the customers insecurities.  In this particular case it was a large customer and the information was grossly inaccurate and potentially quite damaging.  References to financial turmoil were made that posed a threat on our ability to carry out even simple transactions.

Given that we are a private company, there is no way that this particular competitor could have known this and the fact is that the information was just plain wrong.

What I have done:

My response to the customer was 100% relationship focused.  I reached out to the customer and let them know how meaningful it was that they were so forthright as to share the information.  I then reiterated the inaccuracy.  I chose to at no point mention in any way shape of form the competitor because I didn’t want to validate them nor get into a he said she said conversation.

I also reached out to our supply chain partners and dispelled the rumors.  I decided to take the proactive approach and share with the entire supply chain to reduce the risk of having to send out follow ups or engage in this type of conversation again in the near future.

The Outcome:

By handling the situation the way I did, it seems business as usual has continued and the customer has stuck with us for now.   Our vendors are satisfied as well, and have been mostly positive based upon the candid communication.

The Question:

At no point did I actually address the competitor and their bad behavior.  This is an area that I am sensitive to.  As I vacillate between law suits and silence I ask the following questions.  If a situation like this was to occur again…

  • Should I engage the competitor directly?
  • What risk does acknowledging the competitor’s bad behavior pose?
  • What would you do?

I look forward to your response!



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26 Responses to Managing Lies, Gossip, and Misinformation

  1. Kat Caverly says:

    Kudos to you Daniel. You handled it perfectly from a relationship stand point and you did due diligence. Now to the libel (or slander) depending on whether or not it was written or spoken.

    Speak to your attorney. If no damage was done, this is good but what if you do not know the extent of the reach of this behavior? It can be rather difficult to prove that the competitor knew they were lying, but I am not even suggesting considering a lawsuit. It may be prudent to simply put these people on notice in a truly lawyerly fashion.

    • Thanks Kat for stopping by and reading. To some extend I wanted to vent and to some extent I wanted to make public what has happened. I hate bringing in the lawyers. Makes everything expensive and messy.

  2. One of the things we do when competitors say nasty things about us is blog about it. But not in a “you suck; we’re right” say (well, we do, but it doesn’t get published), but in a “you may hear this about us and this is our side of the story” way. Why? For two reasons: 1) It allows us to tell our side without being defensive and 2) If anyone Googles the information, they find us. It actually works better than you think the first time you do it.

  3. Paige Worthy says:

    That’s a tough one, Dan.

    I think the classiest approach is to avoid engaging the competitor directly, dispel the rumors privately with your customers and IN PUBLIC keep reinforcing all the awesome things you are doing and the great results you are providing your other customers.

    Fight that negative energy with positive energy, not more negative!

    • I like the idea of class and a positive approach. I just hope customers see that approach as professional rather than cowardly….Thanks so much for stopping by :)

  4. Reine Shimizu says:

    Perfect way of solving the situation. Engaging in a direct battle is only a waste of energy and creates a negative atmosphere. If they keep up with this strategy they might in the end damage themselves because potential customers/business partners will lose their trust in them. A company that engages in slander is unlikely to act ethical in other areas.

  5. Well-played. The competitive environment can lead others to be defensive, but – when you get defensive, you almost beat yourself. Focusing on the relationship is key.

    I’m not sure that what @Gini Dietrich says fits for all businesses. If you compete exclusively in the world of Google, then by all means state your case where your customers will see (read?) it. But for a relationship-driven business, the dialogue outside the Matrix still matters. Why wait for Google’s server farm to parse your value proposition? I’m surprised that a storyteller with Gini’s ability would wait and write, instead of speak up for what’s right. For me: I’d rather keep one key customer today AND influence many possible others tomorrow.

    • Thanks Chris – as for your thoughts on Gini – I will invite her to stop by and respond. She is wildly intelligent and I’m sure she has a reason for handling the situations the way that she does.

      Appreciate you input my friend.

  6. My 2 cents.

    You made the right choice. In my experience, any organization using these kinds of tactics are suffering internally and it only makes them look untrustworthy to the client. Clients are smart and if those types of tactics work with any regard, it will end up biting both them and the company using these tactics in the end. True clients are loyal and do exactly what yours did.

    • I agree – the big question is “Are the clients Smart” not saying ours aren’t. Just saying that sometimes a competitor with these behaviors are quite good at manipulating. Con artists have been con artists for ages. As long as people continue to fall for their tricks, the behavior will continue to perpetuate.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting! Cheers

  7. Dan,

    I think you took a great step, even though I need to know a little more information before giving you my 2 cents. As you know I ran a $240M division of a large public company a long time ago. Similar situation happened to me. I took a different approach before going to customers and the supply chain. That encompassed talking to our lawyers first. A letter was drafted and sent to a select number of clients and strategic partners. The rumor was confirmed and actually more evidence was provided. That made us go to competition directly. Essentially we asked to get their behavior in line otherwise we have been given evidence of them behaving badly. I can tell the rest to you in person. Hope that helps.

  8. marc zazeela says:

    I would have done exactly as you have. Taking the high road requires integrity, guts, and a check on one’s emotions. To engage in mud slinging only brings you down to the same level as your detractors. Surely it is necessary to make contact with anyone who may have received this false information as it is your reputation that is at stake.

    It really stinks that some competitors resort to such malicious tactics. I have also been party to a sales pitch that was chock full of lies and deception. When I confronted the party all he did was make very lame excuses and blamed me for misunderstanding what he had put in writing.

    • Thanks Marc – it is sad that some have so little skill they resort to this. It is more sad that sometimes people listen. When someone tells me something negative about a competitor or their competitor I immediately dismiss it. (Consider the source)

  9. Christina says:

    According to several theories in quantum physics, any and all positive action you take will facilitate a positive outcome. just sayin. :)

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  11. You handle the situation very well. Experience has taught me to always be professional, analyze the whole situation and maintain integrity to your profession. Nobody wins in an emotional driven situation. I’ve always be told “actions speak louder than word”. Meaning, if others know what your all about and have continued to provide excellent service(s), then there is nothing to worry about. Again, integrity, honesty, and professionalism win out all the time.

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  13. KDillabough says:

    Always take the high road. That is all. Cheers! Kaarina

  14. Theresa Delgado says:


    Excellent topic! Sticking with “Choice 1” is the best road. You built a reputation with these individuals/companies, so let that help you to prove the rumors were/are incorrect.

    Lowering yourself to the level of people who practice dirty business is a waste of time. This is an excellent opportunity for training employees how to handle misinformation, if they are ever in a similar situation.

    Thank you for sharing,


  15. OptioneerJM says:

    Thank Dan,

    This happens often in business, however, I believe that most customers are intelligent enough to appreciate when you take the high road. Experience has shown me time and time again that when competitors start trashing you, it sends alarm bells ringing to your customers.

    Going on the defensive only acknowledges that there may be a grain of truth somewhere in the allegations.

    The biggest underlying issue can be complacency. One should never take for their customers for granted. Treat them as your best customer every day, all the time. That way, when gorilla tactics come into play, your customers will immediately see it for what it is, shoddy fear mongering because they see you as a threat. Which, firmly establishes you on the high road.


  16. way2sharp says:

    A battle of wits with the unarmed is never very satisfying!

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