Posts Tagged 'Lawrence Susskind'

Essential Skills for PR Pros: Dealing with People Who Are Angry and Those Who Lie

Anger

You don’t have to be an Ivy Leaguer or a scholar to be an excellent PR pro; however, a good PR person shouldn’t ignore (and in fact should seek out) sound research that offers sharp insights on skills crucial to public relations work. This post is about a few bodies of research from the Ivy Leagues and other academia that can benefit all PR pros.

We’ve written about some of these snarky public relations issues in the past; these resources offer deep thoughts and strategies to deal with some of PR’s most troublesome situations.

Dealing with an Angry Public

For years, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sponsored a joint, intensive professional development experience by this name. We first heard about it we believe in the 1980s. For a lofty price, this seminar has led participants through training experiences in persuasion, negotiation, crisis analysis and problem solving—all skills any mature PR professional should have. After examining no doubt hundreds of corporate public relations crises—some well known, others lesser known, but still highly volatile—seminar leaders, Lawrence Susskind and Patrick Field, went on to publish a book of the same name in 1996. Needless to say, these are critical skills for professionals in public affairs, issues advocacy, and reputation management; yet they also hold great value for PR professionals throughout the ranks.

One essential lesson that can be derived from Susskind and Field’s case study approach gets to the heart of public relations practice:

  • Focus on mutual gains. In any adversarial relationship, PR people need to keep focusing on mutual benefits. This not only has been a consistent positioning in the changing definition of public relations, but it’s also a critical difference between public relations and lobbying–another area we’ve also written about recently—which tends to be motivated more by “winning” or at least making the other party lose.

Doing Business with People Prone to Lying

Similarly, Leslie John in the July-August 2016 issue of Harvard Business Review emphasizes practicing reciprocity in dealing with people in situations where they may be prone to lie. Not inconsequentially, we see this as potentially any situation where stakes on the outcome are high. While it’s not for us to say who may or may not be given to lying in any particular situation, it would be disingenuous to say that public relations people never encounter or may never have to deal with liars.

As something as an antidote to dealing with people who lie, John offers this advice:

Humans have a strong inclination to reciprocate disclosure: When someone shares information with us, our instinct is to match their transparency.” So, when reciprocity is practiced—when PR people share little-known facts to outsiders—it encourages the recipient to open up and make admissions to an equal degree.

Although John cautions that reciprocity works best when it is initiated, it must also be approached cautiously: Reciprocity should be based on “an issue of strategic importance,” John writes, but later goes on to say that “it should start small: Share a substantive but not critical piece of information. Only if your counterpart reciprocates should you continue the tit for tat.” In other words, what’s disclosed should not be damaging, but it should have some value to the other side. When this is done, John says “it can foster trust and facilitate better outcomes through collaboration and joint problem solving.”

Many PR professionals accustomed to working with the media may recognize this strategy as a good basis for effective media relations. While this is not to suggest that journalists practice anything other than forthright questioning and truth-seeking motives, it is also true that journalists’ relations with PR pros can often be adversarial until both parties work hard to establish trust. Often, this mutual trust is created through a similar kind of quid pro quo.

Similar guidance offered by these publications and echoed in others, especially Beebe and Beebe, include the following:

If you have advice that’s worked in dealing with angry constituencies or with people who lie, let us know in a comment below. We’d like to learn from your experience.

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