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What can we learn from the Komen Foundation polarization

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In the aftermath of the controversy surrounding the Susan B. Komen foundation decision and the reversal of the same decision, perhaps the best thing we can all do is learn from the situation.  Regardless of the side you might be on, if you own a small business, you should be thinking about how to avoid these types of situations. 

We all live in a time of increasing polarization concerning issues. When you combine this with the ability of almost everyone to speak with a loud voice via Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, and other social media platforms, you have a situation which is entirely new. In a matter of hours, the opinion of literally millions can be heard. And there is nothing you can do about that.

Now take that same combination to the local level.  These days it is common to comment on local news sites, in fact it is encouraged. Any issue can get amplified to a higher level than desired. Some time back, a local restaurant owner found out the hard way when his not-too-polite comments were broadcast around the Des Moines metro for all to hear, over and over again. 

If you own a business, you must take extra care not to cast your business into the light of polarizing issues. Sounds easy, but it isn't. Who decides what is polarizing? Everyone. Here are a few polarizing issues that may or may not surprise you:

  • A restaurant has a pig roast in the parking lot.
  • A hardware store fires an employee.
  • A mechanic has a religious symbol on his wall.
  • A veterinarian clinic has to euthanize an animal.
  • A man walks into a shopping center carrying a gun.
  • A woman enters a funeral visitation wearing a revealing dress.

Are these polarizing?  The answer is yes, for a certain group of people. What will cause the loudest of outcries will most likely depend on your response to someone raising the issue as polarizing in the first place.  Does the funeral parlor ask the woman to leave because others are complaining? Does the hardware store respond to an accusation of bias? How does any business person deal with this? The answer is complex, but here are some guidelines to consider.

  • Be consistent in the way you manage and operate your business. 
  • Be polite to everyone. Everyone!
  • Ask others that don't share your personal views for their opinion on how to respond to a sensitive issue. Have an issue raised by a gun owner? If you have time, ask a couple other gun owners you know and trust for their thoughts. You may learn more about where a perceived issued is coming from.
  • Anticipate all potential outcomes so you know what you will do. Plan ahead. It is like playing chess. You have to play a few moves ahead to stay safe. 
  • If you think something you are going to do is going to polarize the community, ask yourself if your business can survive the impact. If not, you shouldn't do it.
  • Do not over react to those who are not civil or respectful. 
  • Communicate clearly and consistently concerning the situation.

Lastly, don't lie. People have a much greater ability to sense when someone is lying that most people understand.

Mike Colwell

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