When I first settled in the UK, I was living in Chiswick in a cottage style, ground-floor flat with a front garden. It had wide reclaimed floorboards, large fireplace and a cute country style kitchen. On a warm sunny spring day, one of my very best friends from my childhood American hometown was visiting me. We were outside, enjoying the fabulous late spring weather while attempting to put together a BBQ. My neighbours from the flat upstairs passed by in the street. I gave a big wave and shouted out for them to come over and meet my BFF. They said polite hellos and scurried in through their front door.
Shaking my head, I told my BFF that I didn’t know what happened, that I had been quite friendly with X and her boyfriend, and that we had gone for many happy hours together and been around to each other’s flats on many occasions. They were important social contacts for me because at the time, I was living alone and most of my friends were colleagues which meant weekends were family time for them. I spent many Saturdays and Sundays on my own, so having a neighbour in the same age group was just a blessing. Plus, I really did like their company.
Though of late, I felt like they (mostly she in all fairness) was just trying to avoid me. The last real contact before this hap-hazard introduction, was when I had an invite from them to an afternoon party at theirs. After that, they never followed up. On the day of the party, I saw their guests arrive and depart while peeking out through my living room window; all the while I didn’t have a text or knock at my door, reinforcing the invite, so I stayed away.
I told all of this to my BFF, indirectly enquiring what I could have done wrong when said BFF just turned around and without taking a breath said, ‘She just doesn’t like you Rach’.
My knees went weak. That coldness that comes up into your face when you are about to be sick was creeping around my ears. I nearly shouted when I asked, ‘What do you mean she doesn’t like me!!?!?!? I mean, Christ. Everyone likes me, right?! How could someone not like me? I like everyone!? What did I do to deserve this?!?!?’ Her explanation was just NOT a feasible conclusion for me.
It was one of life’s rude little lessons. I thought about it constantly. Was it my actions at dinner one night? Did I do something offensive and not realise it? Was my persistent singledom an issue in her consistent coupledom? I vaguely remember going into work on Monday telling my colleagues that it was just pointed out to me that my neighbour didn’t like me. In hindsight, maybe some of my colleagues didn’t like me but if that was the case, I was oblivious.
I suppose it didn’t matter and as time would have it, I eventually moved (not because of them, the landlord wanted to sell). I didn’t relocate far away but we were not neighbours anymore. I no longer had to put my rubbish in the communal bins and worry that I might have that awkward interaction and conversation of unnecessary pleasantries. It wasn’t so much that they didn’t like me that was the problem, it was more along the lines that I felt like I was somehow offensive, which is never my intended character. Since I was a child, I would generally move mountains to avoid confrontation and in my adult life, I try to be a crowd pleaser.
Fast forward a few years and unfortunately this character is not necessarily a good one when running a business. It’s good in the sense that as a hospitality and floral business, you want to be accommodating and pleasant however the constant need to please and to be liked can be exhausting. Also, you need to be able to understand that critical feedback isn’t automatically a direct reflection of you as a person, but perhaps there is something in the business that isn’t made for that customer. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it is even a wrong product, service or offering.
This is easier said than done.
Before any wedding, I lose sleep worrying about every little leaf and petal. Before any private event, I tend to offer a bit more than what the menu said, purely as I want it to be spectacular. There were times where we were probably nearly giving things away. Make a mistake on an order and I’ll be giving away coffees or a cake or ½ price off this or that. This doesn’t make for good business however it’s that insecure shortcoming of my personality that I would hate someone to think any less of me or us or our business.
When we first opened, people used to come in and ooh and ahh and say that they wish they had opened something similar. It was an amazing feeling to have constant affirmation that your dream is valid and accepted. Then like everything, over time you’d hear comments from customers ‘you have the most amazing coffee’, ‘you have the worst coffee’, ‘you have the best sandwich’, ‘you sell carrot and chocolate cake, why don’t you sell red velvet’…. and so it went on and on…
In the very beginning we would nearly trip over ourselves to take into consideration all customer comments; researching different suppliers, different menu options, different staffing structures, different opening times.
We were taking the personal approach that any recommendation or critic of our business was a direct and personal deficiency that we would have to correct. Until… until the time came when a ginormous epiphany occurred, and we realised that it is impossible to please everyone and no, we may not be liked by everyone. At that moment, we took a step back and breathed in a small sigh of relief and decided that we should carry on with our dream and our vision, totally accepting that not everyone will share the same.
I’ve tried to grow thicker skin over the years however sometimes your character is just your character and you cannot, and probably should not, totally change it.
The very worst however are online reviews. While we are fortunate to have a decent collection of good reviews, there are the few that baffle and believe it or not, have caused me to lose sleep. I love using TripAdvisor to leave my account of personal experiences and over the years I’ve left more than a few. Perhaps in some cases I overrate things but in hindsight it’s probably because very little could ruin my vacation. A grumpy receptionist isn’t going to make me enjoy my holiday any less. However, reading through other people’s reviews perhaps they feel they are paying for that holiday, so the grumpy receptionist doesn’t give them satisfaction in what they feel that they have bought. I am not a keyboard warrior by nature and if something does really bother me, I tend to take it up with a manager or the appropriate resources before blasting someone online.
Unfortunately, that is not the case for many. Perhaps there are people by nature that like to, and at the end of the day, have a right to, leave brutal and what they feel are honest comments online. For my character and disposition, this is the hardest reality of being a business owner. You open yourself up for direct feedback that may not make you feel good. You also trust your staff to operate in a way that’s reflective of your character, work ethic and demeanour, which is not always possible. While I don’t mind constructive feedback a 2* review with no comment is not helpful. It might not even be a real review but that doesn’t matter, it’s there and it chips away at the soul.
So learning from life’s rudest lesson, from that moment years ago in my small garden when my best childhood friend informed me that ‘she just doesn’t like you’, well, it’s true. She may not have liked me. Perhaps it’s something I did or maybe even probably something I didn’t, I will never know and the thicker-skinned version of me, doesn’t really need to know.
One thing I have learned however is that you will not be everyone’s cup of tea, or coffee or cake. And that is just fine.