Suze Orman Teaches You How NOT To Handle Criticism

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In case you don’t follow business or personal finance news, financial “guru” Suze Orman recently announced the launch of her new prepaid debit card.

This article has nothing to do with the card itself.

No, instead, this is about how Ms. Orman reacted to criticism directed her way regarding this new product, and how she may have done some serious damage to her brand in doing so.

If you’re not careful, you can destroy a reputation in much less time than you can build one.

The issue stemmed from the large number of tweets criticizing the claims made about her new Approved PrePaid Debit Card.

The card was purported to help those who live a cash-only lifestyle build their credit profiles, which the credit bureaus themselves dispute since no debit card transactions are reported or collected.

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The new card would supposedly help build credit by working with the credit-reporting agency TransUnion in creating a new reporting system.

That in itself drew the ire of many bloggers since debit transactions can only be an indication of spending habits, and not an ability to repay debts.

The second issue many bloggers took issue with was the fees associated with the card.

There is a $3 monthly fee which was one of the biggies here.

Then there were ATM fees, which could be avoided in certain instances, but still apply even to in-network partners.

Add to that, fees for speaking with a customer service representative more than one time a month, and significant fees associated with bill payments, and the bloggers had a field day.

[If you are interested in seeing the history of the tweet war, you can check out The Debt Princess and 20 And Engaged who did a great job documenting it as well as the man who set this whole thing off at PT Money]

Left at that point, the backlash would have been minimized.

That, however, is just where the story begins, and this is where you can learn a lesson on how not to react to criticism!

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The Childish Name Calling

The first sign that things were going to get a little hairy was when she started referring to those who were questioning her new product as being idiots, ignorant, haters, saying they think they know everything yet know nothing, and telling a Twitter follower that they should be pitied.

Rather than stooping to such juvenile, name-calling tactics, Ms. Orman would have been better suited to responding with facts and real-world data supporting her claims while disputing the claims of others.

It seemed like this wasn’t even happening, and some even questioned whether or not this was actually Ms. Orman doing the tweeting or someone else doing so on her behalf.

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Ignoring The “Little People”

At every turn, the bloggers were being shot down and belittled.

Ms. Orman at one point made a reference to “legit reporters” who are most likely her buddies writing glowing reviews as opposed to the bloggers who are the “haters.

At one point they were even reporting that they were being blocked by her Twitter account operator.

It may seem like the easy way to handle the criticism since many of the people doing the bashing weren’t nationally (and internationally) known personalities.

Unfortunately, when that happens, people tend to find other ways to get their thoughts out to the world, and when it comes to personal financial bloggers, they are able to reach a surprisingly large number of people.

That is when all of the blog posts repeating the Twitter comments, and really dissecting the Approved Card popped up.

Just because individually, the bloggers didn’t measure up (statistically) to Ms. Orman as far as Twitter followers or Facebook fans go, they shouldn’t be dismissed, since when taken as a collective, their reach extends much farther.

Plus, all it takes is one person to catch wind of a small movement on the internet and it can blow up to a phenomenon.

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The Backtracking

At one point, famed New York Times author Ron Lieber confronted her on the issue of the insults, to both the bloggers and himself.

To that, Ms. Orman claimed to never insult him.

Of course, he called her bluff and was able to provide a direct insult coming from her Twitter account.

Then came Phil Villarreal to challenge her apology to Mr. Lieber (twice in fact) while ignoring all the others she insulted.

From there it was a bunch of blanket apologies to “anyone I called an idiot” and so on until she was called out for not apologizing to Mr. Phil Taylor (to whom her “idiot” remark was directed) because he wasn’t a writer for the Times (like Mr. Lieber).

Finally, she made a directed apology to Mr. Taylor…

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Qualifying Every Comment

Unfortunately the most important of the apologies, directed at Mr. Taylor, was a bit half-hearted and prefaced by her saying “Even you PT…”.

She also stated among her apologies that she has a hard time taking “defending myself against things that are not true”.

This is where so many apologies go wrong.

You cannot be taken as being genuine if you slip in snide remarks that detract from an otherwise stand-up gesture.

Telling someone that even they are deserving of an apology after kissing the ass of a big shot is not cool.

Taking shots at the people you are supposed to be apologizing to by continuing to inject your “but they are still wrong” defense isn’t cool either.

She did earn some credit by admitting to not taking the high road, and taking responsibility for her comments, but it still didn’t make up for the slights she tried to inject into the apologies.

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While I do not know Ms. Orman personally, I do know that situation was handled in a completely wrong manner.

Rather than taking offense at each negative comment, she should have taken a proactive approach to the matter.

She should have encouraged the dialogue between herself and her detractors, which would have shown a genuine interest in improving her product.

The way she ended up coming off, was as a little child who insists that their school project is accurate and the best in the world with no one being able to tell her otherwise.

She also could have taken the criticism as what it was: honest opinions from people that were completely independent and who could have provided her with some great insight and possibly some future publicity for her platform.

Unfortunately, like many other celebrities, athletes, and public figures, in the heat of the moment, she made a poor choice of words, which ended up spiraling out of control before anyone had a chance to contain it.

This should be a lesson to anyone who has a business or is on a public stage: be careful of how you react to those who do agree with you, as even the slightest mistake can lead to a firestorm of bad publicity and lost opportunities to improve.

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Your Turn

How do you handle criticism? Do you immediately get defensive at any negative word? Do you take a beat and actually process the words? Or…do you simply ignore what others have to say no matter the intent?

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60 Comments

  1. Great points!  I also noticed that her apologies were a bit half-hearted and I saw how she backtracked by saying she can’t defend herself against things that aren’t true.  

    She still doesn’t quite get it, does she?

    I guess she is teaching us though — how not to launch a product and create goodwill.

    1. I’m pretty sure that’s why a lot of people in the public eye have so many people insulating them–managers, personal reps, lawyers, PR types–so they don’t step in it like this or at least minimize the damage

  2. I’d LOVE to see this story picked up in the mainstream media. Badly behaving celebrities have been put up on the evening news for much less than this.

    1. For some reason, I really don’t see it getting that much attention from the mainstream or even being a hot topic for very long outside of our community.  I do have to say that I do think often times the celebrities get off way too easy for some of the negative things they do and/or say.

  3. I’m glad the apologies came, it was really a juvenile way to handle criticism. No one is bashing you Suze, but if you have built your brand of being an honest person, we just want you to stick with it.

    1. My sentiments exactly.  This isn’t about character assassination, but rather a way for others who are (or may) in the same position to learn.  I’m certainly not saying that she shouldn’t disagree with the feedback, but just find a more constructive way to respond.

  4. Suze just had a totally immature response.  We teach our kids to be polite, use their manners and that it’s ok if someone disagrees with their point of view.  Where was she during this lesson?

    1. I can understand and relate to wanting to defend something you believe in, especially if it is your brainchild.  But, there is a right way and a wrong way, and unfortunately her anger at the negative comments got the best of her.  I’m just glad it didn’t break down into a flame war or cursing match.

  5. I have always been a believer of exiting gracefully or approaching a negative situation with respect and maturity. I guess I am more insightful than some. To me your reputation and how you treat people is one thing that never gets forgotten.

  6. This was blowing up my news feed the other day and I was cracking up. I would normally say no publicity is bad publicity, but this made Suze look extremely bad.

    1. Yeah, that saying has definitely outlived its usefulness.  Even before all of these new media outlets came into existence, I could never understand how looking like a fool would be “good pub”.

  7. “The way she ended up coming off, was as a little child who insists that their school project is accurate and the best in the world with no one being able to tell her otherwise.” – I totally agree. The way it was handled was ridiculous and definitely not smart. Once you start insulting the financial blogging community, you will start to lose respect amongst thousands of fans.

    1. Sometimes, I think people don’t really care since there are millions of others out there who will go along with anything their favorite celebrities say or do.  That kind of gets dangerous since the followers aren’t usually influential, whereas the ones who challenge and question her are leaders with pretty big combined followings of their own.  Live and learn I guess.

    1. You are certainly not alone.  From what I’ve read, the sentiment has turned negative toward her based on this latest issue.  But then again, if people decide not to view her any differently, that’s their prerogative and everyone is entitled to their own opinions (even if they are wrong LOL)

  8. I never thought much either way of Suze before, but I think this whole thing has been ridiculous. The cult following she appears to have is just scary, too.

    After reading Ron Lieber’s column in NYT, I’m curious about what she stands to make from this card. The article seems to indicate that this could be a big money loser, although it doesn’t indicate how much can be made once the early losses are overcome. Either way, it’s hard to believe this is really anything but a business move for her.

    1. Have you looked at any of her followers’s response to this?  Some of them are absolutely ridiculous.

      His column also mentions that Russell Simmons spoke to her about the dangers of getting into this business.  I’m sure the profits have to be significant for someone like stick with it through such large losses.

  9. She went way too far and her apologies didn’t come until she was pressured to do so. Heck, I don’t even think she would’ve done that half-assed apology to PT had MJTM not prompter her to. Apology or not, she has lost my respect.

    1. I sure wasn’t going to let that go!  Some people just don’t understand what it means to be highly visible or can’t handle it sometimes.

  10. I follow the principles of how to win friends and influence people and the “golden rule”.  What I learned from Ms. Orman was that PR training is needed at all levels.  I probably will not run my own twitter account if I become a celebrity or famous.  I am naturally sarcastic and a jokester so, I would be bound to ruffle tons of feathers.

    1. I wouldn’t give up control of my voice in that situation.  And f you want to talk about ruffling feathers, I think my last post did a pretty good job of that.

      I Definitely agree with you about abiding by the Golden Rule.  There is no reason to treat others poorly unless you have a desire to be treated equally as bad. 

  11. I suspect she reacted defensively because she doesn’t believe in the product. It’s a money-maker for her, but ultimately, she knows that it’s a bad product for her audience. If she really believed in it, she’d be able to defend it without resorting to childish tactics.

    For rule of argumentation and sales: know what criticisms to expect, and be prepared with an answer.

    1. I wouldn’t agree that she doesn’t believe in the product; some people just cannot handle criticism or can’t distinguish between a knock on the product and a knock on them personally.

      I do agree completely with your last point.  When promoting or selling anything you should always be prepared for criticism and be ready with information to counter rather than resorting to other methods.

    1. You are certainly not alone.  I’m not sure what got the worse reception: the card or her response to the criticism.

  12. It’s fun to watch people self-destruct, isn’t it (though her brand is likely strong enough to easily overcome this). The Kardashians gave up on their prepaid card, maybe we can get Suze to do the same.

    1. The Kardashians give up on a lot of things from what I hear.  Strong brands can survive little bumps in the road, but I’m not sure this fits in just yet.  It’ll take a little time for everything to become clear

  13. She’s showing her true colors. I have always disliked her self-promoting style. She’s a great communicator and could do so much for people … sadly she is just a sales person!

    1. She does seem to remind me of an infomercial host.  Unfortunately, some people choose to use their powers for evil rather than for good.

    1. That’s great lol!  It must have been her was of digging at the bloggers saying that she doesn’t think we’re “legit” in her eyes.  Oh well, can’t please everyone.

  14. I’m glad someone else addressed the insincerity of her apologies! I remember reading them the day of and thinking, “Okay, but she’s still saying people who disagreed with her were lying about her product!” It’s the classic, “I’m sorry, but…” situation. If you can’t sincerely apologize, without rationalizing your actions, without claiming to still be right, why apologize at all? Great post!

    1. Thanks Katie!  I could have had a little more respect for her if the apologies were unequivocal, rather than thinly veiled shots at the people she was supposed to be apologizing to.  Unfortunately, when people attain a certain degree of fame their egos seem to block the reasonable portion of their brains.

    1. Follow the 3 links after the 1st paragraph and you will have so much info your head may spin!

  15. I’m surprised by the way she handled the whole situation — as you said, it’s a textbook lesson in what NOT to do. You’d think that — given that she’s been so famous for so many years — she’d be well-versed in handling criticism by now. All celebs have to develop a thick skin and they have to handle the fact that people will criticize them, so I wonder what it was about this situation that struck a nerve or caused the comments to get under her skin.

    1. That is the surprising thing, her experience in the spotlight.  I’m sure her FICO kit and some of the things in her books got at least some negative feedback.  Maybe this was something different in her mind, being that this is something that is going to change the world of credit and all!

  16. If you read her disclosure regarding the product, you find that she’ll share the available data, I assume deposit and spend patterns of anonymized users. This, in an attempt to see if Transunion can find any value in the data being used in their scoring. The concept is admirable, an interesting experiment. But since she, herself, was clearly against preloaded cash cards, it’s a bit of a flipflop to now offer one with no assurance the trial with Transunion will be a success.

     By the way, I’ve met Phil, many of us have. He’s a gentleman who can critique a product to help his readers without resorting to ad hominem attacks. The groundswell of support for Phil when this happened speaks volumes.

    1. I guess when it comes to the opportunity to make money, some people go against their “beliefs” and will rationalize any way they can.

  17. Her response makes me wonder if she truly endorses this card as she is so quick to defend.  Either way, you make a good point about criticism; she would have been much better off just ignoring the criticism rather than engaging in such negativity.

    1. It’s the things people do when faced with adversity that really defines who they are.  And, in this case, those actions do not speak very well of Suze.

    1. I’ve never been a fan either.  Until now, I at least had a little respect for her based on how she got to this point in her career, but I don’t have much left after this.

  18. Not a good look. I would imagine that some of the “idiots” that she referred to would be the same “idiots” that she would have been targeting to use her card. And many bloggers come with large fan bases who are very protective. Were her PR people on vacation?

    1. They were probably too busy reaching out to all of her buddies to run positive press pieces on the card and she took advantage by running her mouth in a very non-productive or endearing manner.