Dealing with an Angry Public: The Mutual Gains Approach To Resolving Disputes

Overview

Some portion of the American public will react negatively to almost any new corporate initiative, as Disney discovered when it announced its plans to build an historical theme park in Virginia. Similarly, government efforts to change policy or shift budget priorities are invariably met with stiff resistance. In this enormously practical book, Lawrence Susskind and Patrick Field analyze scores of both private and public-sector cases, as well as crisis scenarios such as the Alaskan oil spill, the silicone breast ...

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Overview

Some portion of the American public will react negatively to almost any new corporate initiative, as Disney discovered when it announced its plans to build an historical theme park in Virginia. Similarly, government efforts to change policy or shift budget priorities are invariably met with stiff resistance. In this enormously practical book, Lawrence Susskind and Patrick Field analyze scores of both private and public-sector cases, as well as crisis scenarios such as the Alaskan oil spill, the silicone breast implant controversy, and nuclear plant malfunction at Three Mile Island. They show how resistance to both public and private initiatives can be overcome by a mutual gains approach involving face-to-face negotiation, a strategy applied successfully by over fifteen hundred executives and officials who have attended Professor Susskind's MIT-Harvard "Angry Public" seminars. Susskind and Field outline the six key elements of this approach in order to help business and government leaders negotiate, rather than fight, with their critics. In the process, they show how to identify who the public is, whose concerns to address first, which people and organizations must be convinced of the legitimacy of action taken, and how to assess and respond to different types of anger effectively. Acknowledging the crucial role played by the media in shaping public perception and understanding, Susskind and Field suggest a way to develop media interaction which is consistent with the six mutual gains principles, and also discuss the type of leadership that corporate and government managers must provide in order to combine these ideas into a useful whole. We all need to be concerned about a society in which the public's concerns, fears and anger are not adequately addressed. When corporate and government agencies must spend crucial time and resources on rehashing and defending each decision they make, a frustrated and angry public contributes to the er

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
John Marks President, Search For Common Ground Wonderfully subversive of the established order. Among other things, this book will transform the nature of public life while rendering obsolete the field of corporate public relations.

Judith Kroeger President, Kroeger Associates For every corporate attorney and any CEO whose company has more than 100 employees, this is real world process and problem-solving.

Max H. Bazerman J. Jay Gerber Distinguished Professor of Dispute Resolution and Organizations, J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Northwestern University Executives, governmental leaders, public relations professionals, attorneys, and others need to read this book before they are in the midst of their next crisis. It will provide the basis for seeking reason in the sea of emotion that accompanies most conflicts.

Larry Marullo Director, External Affairs, Southwestern Bell Telephone Company Offers a new approach to old problems. A virtual jumping off the path for companies in finding a route to problem solving.

Frank E.A. Sander Bussey Professor and Associate Dean, Harvard Law School Sets forth a powerful strategy for dealing with major public policy controversies. This book is the perfect antidote to an increasing tendency to polarize issues and escalate tensions.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684823027
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/1996
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Lawrence E. Susskind is Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning at MIT, President of the Consensus Building Institute, and one of America's most experienced public dispute mediators.

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Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1: Introduction

There are many reasons for the public to be angry. Business and government leaders have covered up mistakes, concealed evidence of potential risks, made misleading statements, and often lied. Indeed, our leaders have fueled a rising tide of public distrust of both business and government by behaving in these ways. Consider the following:

* After oil poured from the torn hull of the Exxon Valdez, the public found that Exxon had actually reneged on the promises it had made when it was given the right to build the Alaskan pipeline. There was no adequate emergency response plan in place in case of a spill. Clean-up equipment, what little there was, was buried under several feet of snow. To make matters worse, the state had apparently known about these deficiencies since the early 1980s, but had not rectified the situation.

* Only after thousands of lawsuits had been file.d against Dow Corning did it come to light that the company had not only obtained, but had sponsored biological research indicating, as early as the 1960s, that the silicone used in breast implants might impair the immune system. All that time, the company claimed that silicone was biologically inert and wouldn't hurt anyone.

* Citizens speaking out at public meetings to discuss large-scale residential and industrial development projects, who oppose these projects on environmental and other grounds, have been slapped with libel suits by wealthy corporations trying to scare them into silence.

Wouldn't you be angry if you had been hurt, misled, or threatened?

A New Way of Interacting with the Public

We want to challenge the way that many corporations and government agencies interact with the public. Through numerous examples, detailed case studies, logical arguments, and plain common sense, we want to make a case for a better way of handling these interactions — particularly with groups that are already angry because of the way they have, or think they have, been treated. More specifically, we offer suggestions for avoiding crises when the risks associated with new products or policies come to light, and for responding when mistakes — even disasters — have occurred. Furthermore, we suggest ways in which companies and government agencies ought to respond to those who are unalterably opposed to what they stand for.

Our intended audience includes senior executives of large and small companies who must deal with organized public-interest groups, midlevel managers who often face crises first hand, elected and appointed officials who must respond to unhappy constituents, and entrepreneurs who must take substantial risks to bring new products or ideas to market. Moving past the conventional wisdom, we want to suggest to those who advise these decision-makers — attorneys, issue managers, public-relations consultants, and others — that there is a different way to successfully interact with-indeed, to negotiate with — their critics.

Why We All Should Be Concerned About Angry Publics

Some readers might ask, "Why should I care if people are angry? Dealing with them is the responsibility of my company's public relations people. I never have to deal with the public directly." Others might say, "Why do I care? At my company we have been putting out our product for thirty years and we haven't had a problem yet."

There are two important reasons why all of us need to be concerned about a society in which the public's concerns, fears, and anger are not adequately addressed. First, a continually angry public undermines American competitiveness in the international marketplace. That is, it can sap the productivity of corporations and government agencies who must spend inordinate amounts of time and human capital rehashing every action to defend each decision they make. Second, an angry public contributes to the erosion of confidence in our basic institutions. When important decisions must be made, especially in times of emergency, no one will give the relevant decisionmaker the benefit of the doubt if the public's trust has eroded.

They Undermine American Competitiveness

Because the battle lines are often drawn quickly and sharply in a crisis, companies and government agencies do not talk with those who are or might be angry at them. In turn, the public does not communicate its concerns directly to those responsible. Instead, the drama is enacted through the press, and soon thereafter in the courts. The public's anger is all too often translated into lawsuits. Between 1985 and 1991, 107,000 personal-injury suits, 48,000 asbestos liability suits, and almost 38,000 other product-liability suits were filed in the U.S. In 1991 alone, 1,500 product-liability suits were brought in federal district courts against Fortune 1000 companies. These Fortune 1000 companies were defendants in 95 percent of personal-injury cases. These do not include cases working their way through state courts, where a majority of such lawsuits are filed.

While attorneys and their firms gather data, haggle over procedural rules, and prepare for battle, dollars that could fund research and development, additional investment in infrastructure, or wage increases are eaten up in costly legal battles. Fighting fire with fire, so to speak, undercuts the profitability of business and adds to the cost of operations. It's been estimated that U.S. companies spend some $300 billion annually on litigation involving environmental claims, product-liability suits, class-action securities suits, medical malpractice suits, and Americans with Disabilities cases. Du Pont Chemical alone spends some $75 million annually to defend itself against plaintiffs who have brought suit against it.

Resources expended to fight an angry public cannot be used to solve other pressing problems. Money poured into defending past actions cannot be used to improve future performance. Embattled executives, managers, and their staffs are less likely to take risks, think creatively, and perform effectively if they are distracted from their primary responsibilities. Workers who doubt their employer's honesty are likely to work less hard, report more sick days, and generally be less invested in the success of their organization. Furthermore, because each unsuccessful attempt to address the public's concerns leads to increased skepticism and anger, executives, managers, and workers find themselves confronting the same problems in progressively more potent forms.

The expenditure of dollars and efforts to deal with an angry public are eventually folded into the costs of products. In the international marketplace, American products and services cost more. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that direct and indirect legal costs in 1987 amounted to 2.7 percent of the U.S. GDP, compared with only 0.5 to 0.7 percent of GDP for other OECD countries. In a 1994 survey, 800 U.S. CEOs and CFOs estimated that liability-prevention measures increased the price of products and services by at least 5 percent. One former commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission has stated that, despite attempts to attract foreign companies to list in the United States, such companies often refuse, citing fears of litigation.

arIn addition, lost time and effort, as well as ideas left untried, impose incalculable opportunity costs. Companies, cowed by the public's anger at others' mistakes, may be reluctant to introduce new products or ways of working. American companies lose their technological edge, and American workers lose the jobs that innovation provides. In an increasingly competitive and relentless international market, dealing poorly with an angry public means that American business and American workers lose out.

They Erode Public Confidence

It is not just business that loses out when the public is disenchanted or angry. Government loses, too. A public, frustrated or angry, loses faith in the institutions that govern everyday life and permit collective action. Americans expect the government to defend their country's interests abroad, pave highways, build bridges, prevent crime, provide for the needy, protect public health, and assure prosperity for workers and their families. In 1966, University of Michigan researchers asked Americans, "Do you trust the government in Washington to do what's right? How far do you trust it?" Seventy-six percent of those polled responded, "Yes; most or all of the time." In 1992, the same question was asked. Only 28 percent gave that response. People do not feel they can count on government — regardless of which party is in power.

In anger, citizens have turned against their governing institutions and the individuals who represent those institutions. Thus, voters are easily rallied around such slogans as "Throw the bums out." In a 1994 New York Times/CBS poll, only 13 percent of the public said they believed that members of Congress deserved reelection. Referendums to limit the terms of those gridlocked in Washington were on the ballot in ten statewide elections and in the District of Columbia in 1994. Sixteen other states previously passed such referendums.

Thwarted by a paralyzed, partisan congress, a diminished presidency, and large and complex bureaucracies, citizens feel alienated and are tempted to "throw out" the whole system. Such anger, absent a response, may lead to smaller government and lower tax levels, but it will undoubtedly also lead to cutbacks in essential public services, rising costs associated with privatization, holes in the safety net meant to guarantee public protection to those least able to fend for themselves, enormous increases in the cost of insurance, and huge losses in the value of private property currently protected by regulation and government action.

There are other hidden costs, too. Fewer capable candidates want to run for office when there are insufficient resources set aside to do the job correctly. Consequently, fewer talented and competent individuals are likely to rise to positions of power and influence. As California is discovering, disenchantment expressed through term limits creates unintended consequences when cutbacks tip the balance of power in government to long-time civil servants and lobbyists who face no limits to their length of time on the job.

When anger is directed, in a blunderbuss fashion, at the way in which government operates, civil society quickly erodes. More citizens join the ranks of the health-care uninsured. More youths are randomly killed in the mean streets of our cities. Wages for the middle class remain stagnant. The gap between rich and poor increases. Government's past failures to listen to and address the concerns of its citizens has led to an unprecedented lack of involvement in the electoral process and paralysis in vision and action when we most need it.

We believe that dealing with an angry public honestly, seriously, decently, and effectively is good for both business and government. Government officials and business executives must find a better way to listen to the public's concerns, respond to criticism, and engage citizens and consumers. Conversation and negotiation, rather than a sales pitch and a fight, are what are required.

The Public Is Not Easily Appeased

Imagine, for a minute, that you are the hard-working, able plant manager of a chemical plant that produces, recycles, and disposes of chemicals used in the petroleum industry. One day your attorney tells you that it's time to renew the environmental permit for the incinerator at your factory. Since you have not changed your operations since the last time, your attorney assures you that the filing will be routine and that there is nothing to worry about. However, when you attend the usual perfunctory public meeting at the local school, fifty vocal and angry neighborhood residents appear. They ask you, in no uncertain terms, why there is an incinerator in their neighborhood, what they don't know about what you've been doing, and how many other secrets you've been keeping from them. Surprised? Shocked? Since you haven't done anything, you can't imagine why they are so angry. And not just angry, but angry at you!

Now suppose that none of those fifty citizens have ever been inside your plant. But they know that several workers have died in the last several years in the petrochemical industry, and that big petrochemical companies seem to continue on with their business without remorse. And almost every day, the residents read about or hear of new cancer-causing chemicals and how their manufacturers have either not known about their toxic effects, or worse, have covered up suspected risks.

Fueling the Fire

What faces the plant manager, or anyone in a similar position, is not merely dealing with those fifty angry people at that moment, but rather putting a process in motion that takes account of past mistakes by others. The public has been lied to, talked down to, ignored, and manipulated for so long that those fifty people are not likely to take seriously anything that plant manager says at the meeting. This is not necessarily the plant manager's fault. The public has seen business and government respond to their concerns in the past with slick advertising campaigns, denials of risk, misleading information, and false fronts. Now, anything that plant manager says, even if he or she is totally new to the situation, will be suspect.

Take Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company executives. They privately wrestled with how to deal with the health risks of smoking for over forty years while publicly denying that any such risks existed at all. During the 1950s and 1960s, the company sponsored research on how to minimize the risks of smoking through filters, additives, and delivery devices. However, in public the company denounced epidemiological studies linking nicotine to lung cancer, terming the studies merely "statistical" and "emotional." If you think times have changed, consider a group known as Restaurants for a Sensible Voluntary Policy. The group, with connections to the Tobacco Institute and a public relations firm that serves Philip Morris, claimed restaurants had lost 30 percent of their business from a smoking ban. However, a study of sales receipts commissioned by one municipality involved found restaurant revenues actually increased by 2.4 percent during the period the smoking ban was in effect, while a survey sponsored by Beverly Hills restaurants found a more modest drop of 6.7 percent.

Many past public-relations efforts have done less to address the concerns of the public and more to minimize and ignore those concerns. These efforts have succeeded in fueling citizen anger. For instance, when the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant malfunctioned in the spring of 1979, Metropolitan Edison (Met Ed) announced to the public, "The entire system was systematically shut down and will be out of service for about a week." According to the company, there were no recordings of significant levels of radiation nor were any expected. But within days, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced detection of radiation off the plant site and in nearby Harrisburg. After that news, rush hour in Harrisburg ceased to exist as fear kept people at home. Even the NRC was engaged in spin control of its own. While the NRC had sufficient information to indicate that there was a potential for severe damage to the core of the reactor within hours of the accident, the Commission failed to notify either the citizens living in the vicinity of the plant or Jimmy Carter, the President of the United States.

It is no wonder, given the history of many public-relations efforts, that the public is not easily appeased. Too many mistakes have been made, and too many situations have been mishandled for the public to trust the opinions and reports of high-level executives and government officials. With good reason. From the beginning of a crisis, the public assumes they are not getting the basic facts, let alone the full story.

Who Is the Public?

In a large and technologically complex society, it is difficult to identify just who your audience is and with whom you should be talking. Every public relations practitioner, senior executive, and high-ranking government official faced with an angry public must answer the short but difficult question: Who are these people?

Consider the plant manager's story once again. While the fifty angry citizens before him are certainly the public, how accurately do these citizens represent the larger community? Are these just a few malcontents or troublemakers? Is public anger nothing more than "minor" dissatisfaction amplified by advocacy groups with their own agendas and the media looking for a story? Are there other members of the public, not at the meeting, who have totally different concerns and interests? If the plant manager — active in the community — doesn't recognize anyone in the audience, does that mean that he or she is not really in trouble?

After the tanker Exxon Valdez ruptured, the executives of Alyeska and Exxon U.S.A. encountered strong public reaction and continuous news headlines. Which public should they have been most concerned about? The millions of Americans sitting in their living rooms watching the disaster unfold? The residents, fishermen, local officials, and Native Americans who would bear the brunt of the spreading oil? Visitors who had come to sightsee and fish? The environmental advocacy groups who immediately attacked the company? Or the federal and state officials who were supposed to have helped prevent such a disaster in the first place, but now were sure to blame Exxon?

Who should you talk to in a crisis? Whose concerns should you address first? Which people and organizations must be convinced of the legitimacy of your actions? Until these questions are answered, it is not possible to appease an angry public.

The Typical Approach to Public Relations Does Not Work

If you were to sit down in a classroom with some of the 18,000 college students majoring in public relations today, you might very well like what you hear. The theory of public relations sounds well reasoned, responsible, and pragmatic. One textbook, in use since 1975, offers such proven maxims as: "A source of information regarded as trustworthy, expert, or authoritative is most likely to be believed"; "Personal contact is the most effective means of communication"; and, "Participation in, or awareness of, the decision process increases the likelihood of acceptance." Another classic text, first printed in 1952, defines public relations as "the management function that identifies, establishes, and maintains mutually beneficial relationships [emphasis ours] between an organization and the various publics on whom its success or failure depends." Public relations, according to the textbooks, sounds as simple as companies relating honestly with the people they serve and the people affected by their actions.

But something often happens between the classroom and the boardroom. The ideas disseminated in the classroom are not what the public experiences when the pressure of real-life events requires a quick response. In practice, business leaders (and their governmental counterparts, who are equally concerned about public relations) all too often fail to acknowledge the public's anger. Indeed, they attempt to blunt or undercut the public's concerns by dredging up countervailing "facts" or rebuttals from pseudo-independent experts and unscientific polls. They commit to nothing and admit to nothing. The public is often treated like an angry mob rather than as concerned customers or citizen with legitimate fears, concerns, and needs. Relying on obfuscation and concealment, both public and private leaders tend to make matters worse, compounding the initial difficulty.

While public-relations textbooks may highlight the need for quality information, effective communication, and mutually beneficial relationships, public relations as practiced often employs techniques such as stonewalling, whitewashing, as well as blocking and blaming. We have highlighted these well-practiced public relations ploys below. This is not a comprehensive list. Nor do we mean to suggest that most public-relations practitioners would advocate these techniques. However, someone is advocating for these techniques, or, at least acceding to their use, because we see them all the time.

The Stonewall. All too often, in the face of crisis, attorneys advise their corporate clients to keep quiet. The threats of lawsuits and substantial financial liability can often muzzle a well-intentioned company's sincere attempts to communicate with the public. After methyl isocyanate (a poisonous gas) leaked from Union Carbide's plant in Bhopal, India in late 1984, the chairman of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, rushed to Bhopal in what we consider an exemplary fashion. Anderson was quoted at corporate headquarters as saying: "We can't show our concern about this tragedy by me staying in Danbury. However, his public-relations handlers soon squelched such attempts at accountability and forthrightness. By December 7, three days after the leak, the press reported that Union Carbide had repeatedly refused to provide a detailed description of the system used to store and process the lethal gas. Here's a slice of a press conference held by the company's director of Health, Safety, and Environmental Affairs.

Reporter: I think you've said the company was not liable to the Bhopal victims?

Director: I didn't say that.

Reporter: Does that mean you are liable?

Director: I didn't say that either.

Reporter: Then what did you say?

Director: Ask me another question.

The Whitewash. Too often companies and agencies attempt to minimize the effects of their actions, or downplay the public's worries. Months after the Exxon Valdez ran aground, the State of Alaska helped launch a $4-million ad campaign paid for by Exxon. One ad used a retouched photo of Marilyn Monroe, her mole airbrushed away. The ad read: "We changed this picture to make a point about a legendary beauty. Unless you look long and hard, you probably won't notice her beauty mark is missing. Without it, the picture may have changed, but her beauty hasn't."

The Smokescreen. If stonewalling and whitewashing don't work, then some companies and agencies will attempt to erect a smokescreen to conceal the truth. As one tobacco company public-relations manager stated as far back as 1971, "Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the mind of the general public." Of course, in a free and open society such as the United States, rarely do such schemes work out. Somebody, often the press, finds out the truth behind the "truth."

One classic smokescreen was created by several tobacco companies back in 1953. That December, top tobacco company executives, with the help of public-relations experts Hill and Knowlton, hatched the Tobacco Industry Research Committee, now known as the Council for Tobacco Research. The new committee promised that it would look into the reported link between cancer and smoking and offer "aid and assistance to the research effort." It would also, apparently, look after public relations. Twenty-eight of Hill and Knowlton's staff were transferred to the new group within a year. Half of the first several years' budget was allocated for public relations. While the Council claimed to sponsor legitimate scientific research, actual participants, testifying before Congress in 1994, finally admitted that at least some of its research had been directed by the participating companies' attorneys. The Council sought out obscure researchers who agreed with the industry's stance. The Council promoted the research results through magazines and newspapers, not through scientific and academic journals.

The False Front. Sometimes, organizations enter into a debate under false pretenses. A company or trade association sets up a front, which then goes about lobbying for one cause or another in a seeming spirit of citizen activism. Organizations like the "Coalition for Health Insurance Choices" or "Citizens for Sensible Acid Rain Control" sound reasonable enough. But these organizations were funded, respectively, by the Health Insurance Association of America and public utility companies. Often, this false-front strategy backfires. A group called Nevadans for Fair Fuel Economy Standards attempted to fight a federal fuel-economy bill sponsored by a Nevada senator. What the group didn't publicize was its connection to U.S. automakers in Detroit. When the press ultimately publicized the industry connection, the public was angry and surprised. One individual, who had originally agreed to have his name printed on the group's letterhead, denounced the organization. Many who had written letters to the Senator opposing the bill wrote again to apologize.

The legislative version of the False Front is very familiar. Elected officials propose legislation, knowing full well (and being quite relieved) that the opposition party will kill the bill in committee. This allows the officials who introduced the legislation to claim that they did their best to respond to a particular constituency. They know, though, that nothing will happen. They sometimes even admit in informal meetings with opponents of the proposed legislation that this was their strategy.

The Block-and-Blame. When all else fails, public relations practice seems to suggest that businesses and government leaders ought to distance themselves from the problem and blame somebody else. "If we didn't cause it," the conventional wisdom goes, "we can't be blamed for it." Union Carbide first told the press that its Bhopal plant had been designed and built by Americans under American standards. Days later, with the crisis out of control, Union Carbide tried to distance itself from its Indian counterpart, UC India, Ltd. The U.S. company claimed it did not have a detailed understanding of the foreign facility's design. Union Carbide stated that the plant had not been supervised by Americans in over a year. The company also argued that the poorest residents in Bhopal had moved too close to the plant over the years.

Shortly after the Exxon Valdez spill, one Exxon USA official said of the tanker's captain: "You can't be any more legally qualified to do this work than Captain Hazelwood." The Coast Guard soon found out that Hazelwood had been drinking. Quickly, Exxon management distanced themselves from the captain. They fired him and reconsidered footing his legal bills. The president of Exxon USA told the press: "This incident should never have happened. In my view, it was a human failure that it did happen." In the public sector, the block-and-blame strategy is as easy to use — one official or party needs only to accuse the other(s) for unpopular action or the failure to act. "They made me do it," and, "They wouldn't let me do it," both offer an easy excuse.

The Slash and Burn. When worst comes to worst, some public-relations practitioners suggest all-out warfare against their critics. In 1991, a crisis management document prepared for the Clorox Company came to light. It suggested strategies the company could use in case they were attacked by environmentalists challenging the safety of household bleach products. For example, if a newspaper columnist noted the environmental hazards of household bleach, and Greenpeace suggested a boycott, the plan enumerated several countermeasures. First, "independent" scientists should immediately conduct media tours. Second, the industry should initiate an advertising campaign called "Stop Environmental Terrorism." Third, the legal staff should be told to conduct research into the possibility of a slander suit. Above all, the company was advised to avoid a debate on the scientific merits of the case because the issue would become "too emotional." In another imagined scenario, if the National Toxicology Program (NTP) concluded that chlorine was indeed an animal carcinogen, the plan called for Clorox to bring several "objective" scientists from the Chlorine Institute to testify in front of Congress that the NTP report would require reevaluation and further study (this before any study was ever published)!

A Different Approach Is Needed

Clearly, a different approach is needed. Business and government must find a better way to negotiate with their critics. With American competitiveness and faith in our governing institutions at stake, business and government leaders must go back to the basic tenets of public relations. We do not suggest that this will be easy. Given legal liability, the difficulty of identifying representative publics, increasingly complex technological risks, diverse values and beliefs, and the age-old unpredictability of human nature, all filtered through a complex lens of press, radio, and television, the work ahead is formidable. However, we believe there is a better way. We have developed an alternative approach that we believe can provide a means of navigating the turbulent waters churned up by an angry public.

Consider once again the predicament of the plant manager standing before fifty angry citizens. What should he or she do? At every turn, the manager is likely to be heckled and doubted. Should the plant manager hold a community day with free food, drink, and balloons for the children? The public will surely see this as a paltry attempt to make friends at a time when opponents are not feeling friendly or conciliatory. Should the manager sponsor a scholarship at the local high school, or maybe volunteer to rehabilitate a local playground? The public will see the offer of such funds, particularly for items that are not the primary concern of those who raised the issue, as nothing less than a bribe. Most residents will not be bought off, certainly not at the expense of their own self-respect or the respect of their peers. Should the manager then simply assure them that their fears are unfounded, and offer independent reports and manuals outlining operating procedures to appease them? However accurate such information might be, a skeptical citizenry is not likely to believe these reports or trust what they are sure to view as biased material. Furthermore, the citizens are likely to feel that their concerns have been brushed aside if they are not given an opportunity to meet face to face with the top leadership of the industry and regulatory agencies involved.

We have different advice for this plant manager. In fact, we have what we believe to be the most practical advice for most business people and government officials who face an angry public We believe that they should adhere to a simple set of principles that we call the mutual-gains approach to dealing with an angry public. The gist of the mutual-gains approach is to think of the interaction with the public as a multiparty, multi-issue negotiation. In that context, the plant manager should:

* acknowledge the concerns of the other side.

* encourage joint fact finding.

* offer contingent commitments to minimize impacts if they do occur, and promise to compensate knowable but unintended impacts.

* accept responsibility, admit mistakes, and share power.

* act in a trustworthy fashion at all times.

* focus on building long-term relationships.

These concepts have been developed over many years at the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program and at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School. They have been honed and refined through numerous face-to-face interactions among government agencies, private businesses, technical experts, consumer advocacy groups, environmental organizations, and the public at large, as well through dozens of intensive workshops with more than fifteen hundred top-level business leaders and government officials.

These concepts are especially likely to resonate with those familiar with total quality management (TQM) or continuous quality-improvement techniques, through which companies strive to organize themselves around their customers' and suppliers' wants and needs. We'd like to borrow from the President of SAS Airlines, who wisely said that his company exists only in the eye of the beholder, in those moments when a company employee and a customer interact. Like the key concepts of total quality management, these six guiding principles focus on quality, responsiveness, and problem-solving. Like proponents of total quality management, we advocate listening hard to the concerns of consumers, customers, and clients so that problems can be spotted ahead of time. We also advise that there be a premium put on building long-term relationships. What is notably different about our prescriptions is that we propose applying them in the most difficult kinds of conflict situations.

The following chapters illustrate and explain these six ideas in more detail. Chapter II probes further the various reasons why different publics are angry. Unless the different causes of anger are carefully distinguished from each other, mistakes will be made in applying the mutual-gains approach. Chapter III discusses why the mutual-gains approach is more effective than the typical practice of public relations. In Chapters IV, V, and VI, the real heart of the book, we illustrate and expand on the six principles through wellknown examples of accidents or mistakes, potential risks, and philosophical disagreements. We let the events of real crises unfold and discuss how the mutual-gains approach might have helped to produce positive outcomes in each of these circumstances. Because of the importance of the media in shaping the way the public understands what is happening, in Chapter VII we suggest ways of interacting with the media that are consistent with the six mutual-gains principles. Finally, in Chapter VIII, we discuss the most important element for pulling all these ideas together into a coherent and useful whole: the leadership that corporate and government managers can and should provide. Our advice is simple. But implementing our advice requires innovative, courageous, principled, and sophisticated leadership.

Copyright © 1996 by Lawrence Susskind and Pattrick Field

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Table of Contents

Contents

Acknowledgments

Chapter I. Introduction

A New Way of Interacting with the Public

Why We All Should Be Concerned About Angry Publics

The Public Is Not Easily Appeased

The Typical Approach to Public Relations Does Not Work

A Different Approach Is Needed

Chapter II. Why Is the Public Angry?

What Is Anger?

Why Are People Angry?

Rational and Irrational Anger

Typical Responses to an Angry Public

Dealing with an Angry Public: The Conventional Wisdom

Chapter III. The Mutual-Gains Approach

The Mutual-Gains Approach: Six Principles

The Old Plastics Factory

Background

Applying for a Waiver

Further Study

The Public Presentation

A Disaster Threatens

The Fallout

Chapter IV. Accidents Will Happen

Three Mile Island: To Tell or Not to Tell

The First Day: March 28, 1979

The Second Day: March 29, 1979

The Third Day: March 30, 1979

The Final Days: March 31 and April 1, 1979

Telling the Truth: The Mutual-Gains Approach

The Advantages of Disclosure Outweigh the Disadvantages

Act in a Trustworthy Fashion

Select a Capable Spokesperson

Enlist Support on the Outside

Government and Business Should, Can, and Do Cooperate

The Exxon Valdez: When Paying Out Doesn't Pay Off

Cleaning Up

A Modest Proposal

Exxon's Response

Mitigation Efforts

Compensation for Damages

The Aftermath

Doing It Differently: The Mutual-Gains Approach

The Company's Failure to Accept Responsibility

The Company's Failure to Establish Clear Lines of Communication

The Company's Failure to First Mitigate, Then Compensate (and Ultimately Leave People Better Off)

The Company's Failure to Convene an Effective Problem-Solving Forum

Conclusion

Chapter V. Risky Business

What Is Risk?

Assessing Risk

Perceiving Risk

Communicating Risk

Risky Business

The Breast Implant Controversy

The Story Unfolds

The Story Is Retold

What Should the Company Do?

Implant Rupture

Drawing Conclusions in the Face of Uncertainty

Knowing Your Product and Presenting It Truthfully: The Mutual-Gains Approach

Set Clear Performance Standards

Minimize the Risk, Not the Concerns of Others

Make Commitments You Can Keep

Seek to Know, Not to Hide

Engage Stakeholders in Making Risky Decisions

Make Contingent Commitments

Chapter VI. When Values Collide

What Are Values?

Why Are Value Conflicts So Difficult to Resolve?

A Model for Deescalating Intractable Conflicts

Hydro-Quebec and the Cree: Clashing Cultures

Hydro-Quebec's Response to the Cree

Talking With, Not At, the Other: The Mutual-Gains Approach

Seek Common Principles — Despite Seemingly Stark Differences

Consider That You Might Be Wrong

Consider Substantial Community Improvement Through a Fair Process, Not Compensation Only for the Few

Ignoring the Principles of the Mutual-Gains Approach Intensifies Cultural Conflict

Animal Rights

Listening Whether You Agree or Not: The Mutual-Gains Approach

Examine History to Better Understand Today

Seek Reason Amid Emotion, Not Reason at the Expense of Emotion

Recognize Diversity on the Other Side

Beware the Pitfalls of "Rights Talk"

Seek Forums for Dialogue

Chapter VII. The Media

The Conventional Wisdom of Media Relations

The Media as Adversary

The Media as a Tool

The Media Can Be Controlled

Media Policy by Default

The Mutual-Gains Approach to Dealing with the Media

Take into Account the Interests of the Media

Tell the Media What You Know and Don't Know

Make Available People with Authority Who Can Share Their Views Openly

Work to Convince Media They Have an Educative Role

Use a Neutral to Speak in a Single Voice

In a Consensus-Building Process, Establish Ground Rules to Guide Media Interactions

Use Additional Means of Communication

Set an Example for the Media to Follow

Summary

Chapter VIII. Principled Leadership

Doing the Right Thing

Integrity, Honesty, and Trust

How to Inspire Trust

Sharing, Listening, and Learning

What Leaders Value

Leadership and Institutions

Concluding Remarks

Notes

Bibliography

Index

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