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Dealing with an Angry Public - May 30,2008
These days the world is up in arms. The slightest “wrong move” on the part of an organization results in the swift manufacture of expertly designed placards and an angry mob literally baying and nipping at the heels of those who they feel have wronged them. It seems as if even children born nowadays leap from the womb, with shaking fists, chanting for ‘justice’ or some other sort of redress. Everybody is camera ready.

And you thought that now was the best time to choose that fancy career in communication – after all you will be working in your jacket and tie and suits from that ivory tower. No such luck. Times have changed and you have to get yours hands dirty because many times management’s decision will be, “let the communications/p.r. department do it.” Sorry.

Risky decision
So, how do you deal with an angry public? How do you calm nerves and the flustered feelings of customers who are angry with your company because you have let them down by failing to live up to a promise; delivering inadequate service or because you have said something that is not true? Then there is the scenario where you know your company will have to take a risky decision that may involve threats to the environment, lay-off staff, singly or en bloc or close a manufacturing or other plant.

And with maximum respect to our trade unions, let us not forget your ever-present industrial strike and the threat of such. My personal view of this is that, as it has mostly been a male-domain there is too much testosterone in those negotiating rooms. But I digress, as usual. What is the reason behind the anger and are there effective ways of facing down the angry mob and living to tell the tale?

Highly charged
I will let James E. Lukaszewski (ABC) writing in CW tell us what causes this emotional chaos: “Among the most powerful management deficits in today's business world is the ability to successfully handle highly charged emotional situations. In virtually every management school in the U.S. and the Western world, two concepts reign supreme: Decisions, plans and strategies must have a basis in scientifically demonstrable concepts and evidence, and, if it matters, it's measurable. This is the way managers are being trained today and have been trained for the last 20 years.”

“We have created an amoral managerial class trained to devalue anything that is even slightly emotional, unscientific or unquantifiable. For communicators, two collateral problems are created by this environment. First, organizations get into trouble because management makes decisions that are numbers- and results-driven and ignores the impact on clients, customers, shareholders and constituents. Second, without guidance, management can only respond defensively, and largely unsuccessfully, to the angry employees, customers, neighbors or victims they create.”

Deal with it
So there you have it: management makes decision based on numbers, not taking into account the impact on real live humans, and mostly do not input into the equation how to deal with any

negative response. You, the communications expert will have to clean up that chaos. Deal with it.

First of all tidying that mess up usually involves a lot of work and you cannot pass the buck on this one. So if you are not up to it, my suggestion is to start quickly leafing through the Jamaica Observer’s “Want Ads”, today because it isn’t about to get any better or easier. More and more it is the communications personnel who speak to the public, ask the JPSCO’s Winsome Callum who I am sure has stories about complaining or irate customer.

To back-track
It is he/she who has to painstakingly explain (facing the camera) the ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores’ of events affecting clients. So, bone up on your on-camera skills and for heavens sake, get the story sorted out so that you do not have to back-track. And when I say, story, I am with a straight face, NOT speaking about fiction, I am speaking about a finely crafted, expertly told position prepared by the company.

While we are on the subject of speaking, update your people skills. If you are irascible, speak a little too glibly, or deep down you really don’t like your customers (or your job), perhaps it is time to take a good, strong look at yourself in the mirror if it is that your job will call for you to talk to an angry public. If you don’t like dealing with people it will show and will shine forth blindingly bright.

You also have to be emotionally sensitive, to deal with the customer who has only heard half the story, and believe me what they hear first will never be your company’s side. Plus, you will have to have the testicular fortitude to guide senior colleagues who might be chosen to speak with the public. You will have to advise them how to speak and what to say. Always, always, always tell them to speak the truth. Any other way it will come back and bite them.


Yvonne Grinam-Nicholson MBA, ABC, is a Business Communications Consultant with RO Communications Jamaica, specialising in business communication, employee communications and financial publications. Contact: yvonne@rocommunications.com; Website: www.rocommunications.com and post your comments.

 

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Tele:(876)925-4529 Fax:(876)941-1209 Mobile:(876)807-1140 P.O.Box 2052, Constant Spring P.O., Kingston 8, Jamaica W.I. E-mail: yvonne@rocommunications.com