Oh boy … this is a tough one. I wish I could say this type of thing does not happen in the event industry but alas, poor Yorick, it does. How do you handle those horrible, negative, soul-sucking experiences? How do you react in the moment? How do you resolve the conflict? How do you rise above and be a great example?
The truth is--there is not a perfect answer to these questions. Why? Because we are all imperfect people working with other imperfect people. Any time you put people in the mix, there’s the potential for disaster. So, let yourself off the hook. It happens. It will most likely happen more than once and often when you least expect it.
It can be hurtful when an accusation comes from an industry partner. We can almost expect some criticisms from clients but when “one of our own” is the source of the problem, it can feel much worse--a betrayal. Here are some tips from my own experience on what to do when a colleague throws you under the bus.
1. First, kill them and destroy all evidence of involvement. Ha! That’s what we want to do sometimes right? Don't do that! Seriously, the most important and difficult thing to do is remain professional. You may need to wait and calm down before you respond. Remember, whatever is said and/or done will live on in history as who you are well beyond the incident itself. Although it is difficult in the moment, try to keep the big picture in mind before you react.
2. Second, get all the facts from everyone involved before you form your opinion of what happened. Think of it this way: You are now a detective searching for the truth, looking for clues, establishing facts. You have to try to separate yourself enough to be unbiased in the moment.
For example, if the planner that hired your company is complaining to you about one of your employees, calmly listen to each person’s side of the story before you react. In the same way, if someone is laying blame at your doorstep, find out why before you become defensive.
This is very hard to do especially if you’re like me and would defend your employee against any and all foes down to the ground. We all make mistakes and sometimes the accusation might be true. Listen before you make a judgment or take any action. This does not mean you are not loyal to your team nor does it mean you don’t trust them; instead you are exhibiting wisdom and acting in true fairness. Once you have the facts and know who is responsible, then you can take appropriate action and feel confident.
3. Third, communicate with all parties but stay calm. Even if everyone else is raging, keep your cool and diffuse the situation. Never settle an argument or have a discussion about an issue in front of a client. We are professionals…act like it.
Do tell … I recently had a situation myself. Earlier this year, a venue in our state closed down, leaving 50 families without a venue for their weddings. One of the planners involved contacted us asking if she could bring some of these families to a property where we have an exclusive planning contract. After receiving permission from the venue, we allowed the planner to rent the venue and plan a wedding separate from us. We attended pre-planning meetings and walk-throughs and we assured the venue we would be on-site for the wedding day. We received a fee for the time we were involved.
The day of the wedding was, in our opinion, very hectic because the planners arrived very late to set everything up. Eventually, everything took shape and it seemed the wedding party was fine. We commented to ourselves that we would have done things differently, but I thought it was good for some of my team to see how other companies work.
Six weeks later, the father of the bride emails the venue and their board of trustees complaining about my company. In short, all the negative issues of the wedding day that the family experienced were blamed on us because the planner convinced the family we were at fault. The letter was detailed, very negative and extremely untrue.
What would you do in this situation?
My first call was to the wedding planner. Voice mail, left a message. Emailed too, no response for two days. I wanted to speak with her first to get her insight as to what was going on and gather the facts. I was sure she would be as shocked as I was about this letter. I thought we could compare notes so we could answer the client and reassure the venue.
My second call was to the venue. I wanted them to know that the letter shocked me since there was no communication with us about any issues from the family or the planner. I explained that we were not the hired event planners and that, sadly, the shortcomings of the wedding planner that was hired were being blamed on us. Fortunately, the venue knows us well, chose us to be their exclusive partner six years ago and knows our work. They were on our side.
Eventually, I received a call back from the wedding planner. Her version of the facts from that day was nothing like what my team witnessed on-site at the wedding. Furthermore, the planner confirmed that she did tell her client that we were at fault for the failings of the wedding. Specifically, she blamed our on-site employee--even though our company had nothing to do with the planning or execution of this event.
Of course, this did not sit well with me and since it was just she and I on the phone with no employees or clients around, I expressed my negative opinion of her and her willingness to lay false blame instead of taking responsibility for her failures, which we all have to do sometimes. I further explained that she would no longer be privileged to work with my team or me and could not host any other weddings at the venue we manage.
Yes, I was livid. I didn’t scream …. I didn’t swear … I didn’t threaten. I did tell her that I would be sharing this story with the event community so she won’t be surprised to read this.
The last course of action was to respond to the father’s letter. I wrote a very professional letter--not cold but not emotional. I addressed each concern he listed, giving only the facts. The facts supported the real reason his family had issues on the wedding day--the incompetent wedding planner he hired. I never heard back from the father but I did receive a thank-you from the venue for our professionalism.
It happens. It stinks but it happens. The difference between who is right and who is wrong is how it is handled. Stay calm, get the facts from all parties, and communicate rationally the findings and steps you’ll take to resolve the situation. That’s all you can do. Don’t hold a grudge or speak negatively about that person to your coworkers, employees or clients. Let it go and move on to bigger and better. These are the old school values. Be the professional even when others are not.
Have you been in this situation before? Feel free to share your experience and how you handled it with us (professionally…no names please). If you have any questions about this or any other issues, contact us…we’re happy to share!
Tami Forero is a strategic event planner and CEO of Colorado Springs, Colo.-based company Forté Events. With 22 years of event planning experience, she helps clients meet goals using experiential events and is a sought-after speaker across the U.S. on the subjects of sales, work-life balance and profitability.