Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Been Bitten? Back-Off or Bite Back?


When I got the phone call from a reporter,  I was happy to hear from her. I had no idea the call would end with me shaking from anger and frustration! Have you had that happen?

I had been encouraged by several pastors to think there was an interesting story in the fact that, through people finding this site on a search engine, I have sent a free PDF on church security to almost every state, and to Canada, Mexico, England, Ireland, Scotland, Norway, India, China, Japan, El Salvador, Peru, Mexico, Australia, Nova Scotia and to far-away Texas. So far, over 1,800 copies–and I know that several other sites are also sending out that document.

I thought the internet and international angles might be interesting for a reporter. And, since I am also a member of HARO (Help a Reporter Out) a subscription that posts dozens of reporter requests a day, I truly felt I might be assisting a reporter with a  story. I don’t have anything to sell, so I was not going to profit from it.

The reporter jumped on me with all four feet, almost from her first words, and let me know she didn’t agree with me. (She thinks telling ushers to get assistance rather than tackling a suspicious person, is creating a victim mentality.)  She sounded quite angry with me for my approach to the subject, and I got the impression she resented me contacting her about it.

Finally–not soon enough–I said I was done arguing with her about it and we hung up with negative feelings. I was stunned at her reaction to what I thought was a helpful gesture!

Have you ever been bitten when you were trying to be helpful?

My experience with the reporter reminded me of the time an employee with the United States Marshals Service, John Soltys, a recently discharged Navy Seal who was enthusiastic and hardworking, suggested an improvement in the prisoner cell block. We forwarded his idea to headquarters for a commendation and they wrote back that he should be disciplined because he went outside his scope of responsibility.

Not long ago a friend of mine picked up a toy a child had dropped in a store and smilingly gave it back to her. The child’s mother grabbed it and angrily said, “Are you nuts? That teaches her to take things from strangers!” (I think someone was nuts in that conversation.)

How can you respond to unexpected bites?

Use self-control. Avoid lashing out in anger or hurt. Use your face and voice to show that you want to know what has caused the unexpected reaction. Smile if it is appropriate. Show concern, ask questions, give people a chance to back off from their hasty actions.




Be as honest and open as the situation will allow: “I don’t know what to say. I really didn’t expect this to be a problem.” “I have to tell you, I’m surprised I’m getting this response.” Perhaps a simple clarification or explanation can completely change the reactions of the other person.

You may need to stop the interaction, if you are in a situation where you can do so: “I was mistaken and thought you might be interested. You’re not, so we don’t need to talk about it anymore.”

There will be some situations in which you cannot present your viewpoint and you can only hope to get our rear-end out of the situation safely! At that point your best response is a simple, “I’m sorry. I thought I was doing the right thing.”


“Once bitten, twice shy.” There are some people you can never please and they approach most conversations with an unpleasant attitude. Others, like you and me, may not always respond effectively, but it is not the norm and we work to avoid being unpleasant, as well as working to show appreciation.

Put A Muzzle On Yourself

Think before you reject an idea or a person. Don’t say no too quickly and don’t assume you know all about the situation and can make a clear decision. Find out more.

Use your expression and voice to present your best self. When you must disagree or decline something, you can say no without saying it in a way that is offensive, hurtful or dismissive. Especially read your emails to ensure that you are not being more curt or sarcastic than you intended.

Consider the intentions of others. The old adage is that we judge ourselves by our intentions while others judge us by our actions. Change that a bit. Work to judge intentions and try to put a good spin on them until you are proven wrong. That is what you would want from others.

Appreciate efforts: We often say, derisively, “they meant well.” At least honor that, even though you should not accept poor work or a bad outcome. Treat effort and outcome separately. When people have tried to do the right thing, don’t repay them by biting their heads off about it.

Smiling is the best way to show your teeth!

October 5th, 2008 Posted by | Personal and Professional Development | 12 comments