Let's get right to it...
I've never done what I am about to do, but the experience was so surreal I couldn't help but share it.
Last month, a nonprofit association I helped found and led for many years held an annual Holiday Social. After some good gnoshing and drinks, participants were asked to share their thoughts about where the organisation could go and what they'd like to see. Many ideas were shared - some were good, but not all - and the board of directors indicated they'd get back to the group and community at large with some thoughts.
Before the board could hold its January meeting and discuss this amongst themselves, an attendee sent an email to the board president, another director, and me.
Why me, you ask?
I retired from the association over three years ago, but still operate in a peripheral advisory role. In many respects, I am the association's organisational memory, but ultimately, just another member. The community, however, has had a particularly challenging time "letting me go". Stakeholders and others still say "your" when referring to the organisation as if I'm still in a leadership role (even if they themselves are members), and I am asked about the group's activities or interests or contacted to make decisions on its behalf. Though I typically respond in a manner which clearly reminds I am primarily a member, there are days I seriously consider no longer showing up at events so I can have a break from the linkage. There are some people, however, who have inverted this scenario and view my presence as the Queen half of a monarchy, a founder who simply cannot move on. They couldn't be more wrong, but being wrong has never stopped anyone before.
To get back to the story, no one responded to the email over the holiday season. After all, we have families, businesses, and other obligations in addition to our civic involvement. You know...lives. So another email arrives a couple days after the New Year pinging us again and asking for feedback.
Not only did some expressed ideas in the email show a lack of understanding of the association, but many had already been tried, discussed, or reviewed/revisited throughout the nonprofit's history. It was a very basic missive delivered with 'silver platter' flourish, and the writer clearly felt his ideas were unique, daring, outside the box. I didn't. Thus, after that second ping in early January, I briefly, professionally, and honestly shared that opinion.
A self-professed marketing expert and journalist who received "national awards" - essentially imploded. Not only did he launch into an endless stream of ad hominem attacks against me, but he carelessly ripped through the association with one erroneous and uninformed assumption after another. When I responded with factual information about the nonprofit's history and progress, he vomited straw man arguments and attacks. The nonprofit's president called him and urged him to pick up a phone and put an end to his irrational tirade, but he ignored this olive branch.
When all was said and done, he was so emotionally flooded and in such a state of denial and projection that I was labelled the amateurish anti Christ who'd insulted and demeaned him, and he was the innocent and brilliant victim. You can't make this stuff up. Needless to say, he played his hand so poorly that any chance of working closely with the association, or serving as a director, was severely compromised.
He sent yet another email, prefacing it with "this will be my last response". It was rude and unhinged, and again tried to juggle playing the victim card with delusions of grandeur. Any comments I'd made about the association in response to his false assumptions were simply ignored.
In an effort to get him to seriously reconsider his behaviour, I indicated I'd be fine if he shared our entire exchange with everyone he knew. I asked if he would be if I did so with every public, private, and nonprofit leader I know - including media. The association president wrote again, taking him to task and expressing profound disappointment. Despite the prior 'last response' promise, he sent one more "You're nuts!" one liner. He then proceeded to remove a profile he'd written of me and the association, and deleted his book review. We later learned he deleted everything he'd written about the nonprofit association over its 12+ year history as well.
Wow. Talk about scorched earth and dodging a bullet...
The obvious moral of the story for all of us is don't go off the rails if your opinions don't dazzle clients or your audience the way you thought they did. Use it as an opportunity to get clearer on what they've tried, what worked, what didn't, lessons learned, and other probing questions which position you to give the best and most effective advice possible. Leave the tantrums for toddlers.
As for me, the first lesson is no matter how tempting it may be to want to engage and turn such a situation around, know when to simply stop trying to reason with those just looking to avenge wounded pride. The second is to heed the loud voice in your head or feeling in your gut. This wasn't the first time this person sent emails with ideas which didn't really connect, and my original plan was to simply ignore him. We can't get back the hours or days we lost responding to his deep-in-the-cave scud offensive.
The unfortunate part is I agreed with many of his observations about the history of the association. Many of his perceptions about the 'why' were wrong, but some weren't, and I would have welcomed an intelligent and informed dialogue about the numerous reasons which contributed to it *and* compelled me to write my book. He would have come away much better equipped to provide workable insights and ideas, and it could have been a true win-win.
Finally, if you're reading this and require SEO or internet marketing consulting, you might want to consider what you're in for if the subject of this blog gives you advice you don't like or agree with.
You guessed it: one more email. This time, demanding that a previous review he wrote for my book be removed or he will go to every place on the internet and make negative comments. This was followed by a lengthy attribution of his attitudes, feelings, or suppositions to me (projection). The cherry on top was begging me to get professional help for my psychological disorder.