Even when your team does all it can to avoid screw-ups and mistakes.
The thing is — mistakes aren’t what will land you (and your credibility) in trouble with your public… It’s the knee-jerk reaction we all have to them that will actually make matters worse.
Here are 3 tips to help your team handle inevitable mistakes.
1. It’s human nature to try to justify (even to ourselves) why the mistake happened, whose fault it is, why it wasn’t that big of a mistake (if one at all)…
This is the real mistake.
Of course you’ve got to be careful in how you go public with acknowledging any screw-up, miscalculation, poor analysis, or serious error. But giving in to the reflex to be overly-protective or defensive is guaranteed to make matters worse.
So, rather than being “careful” in how you go public with a mistake, the better advice is to be “thoughtful” and not cave to human nature when you deal with your team’s mistakes.
We wish we could prevent you from dealing with any mistakes, but that simply isn’t possible, nor is it necessary.
However, we’ll help you prevent those mistakes from damaging the public’s trust in you — and help you shape them into opportunities to deepen your credibility, even with the most cynical public.
2. Public Official? Don’t Act Like a Private Firm. Except When…
Even when you try you HARDEST to avoid mistakes…Embarrassing things still manage to happen. Even to the best teams.
Mistakes don’t discriminate, do they? They happen in public-sector, as well as private-sector organizations.
The question for you is:
How should folks like you, in the public-sector, handle mistakes? Especially BIG ones… that your team caused?
When businesses mess up big-time, they hire a big name Public Relations firm.
These firms specialize in salvaging the company’s name, or saving the brand in face of the screw-up.
But what can you do when you work in the public-sector?
One of the few areas where our advice to public officials is similar to that of private-sector “crisis-communications PR experts”: Get the information out!
Don’t sit on it… Don’t DRIBBLE it out. Your team has to get the word out about your mistake immediately.
Since so little is shared between the private and public domains, we felt it was worth sharing this particular piece of parallel advice with you.
3. Hiring a PR Firm Can Backfire for Public Organizations
You know what happens when a big corporation messes up. They hire one of the few Madison-Avenue PR firms with a reputation for knowing how to help clients who have been caught with their pants down.
Public agencies can’t really do that!
The trouble is, while the public doesn’t protest when a private-sector organization hires a spin-doctor (with the clear and obvious intention of “spinning” the public, saving face, and their image)…
That same public will NOT put up with a public agency doing the same thing.
Double standard alert!
Even so, we have to admit that even we, as a citizens, don’t really want our government to spend our tax money to hire a “spin-doctor” to “spin” us.
Yet mistakes happen, and your team needs to deal with them.
So how can you save your credibility with your public, when hiring a PR firm will only create more animosity and cynicism?
Is it a crazy “Catch-22” situation? What’s the best way to deal with it?
We explain the double-standard in more detail, including what you can do about your team’s mistakes in this month’s webinar.
It’s hard enough to get your technical work done within budget and time constrictions.
It’s nearly impossible if you lack credibility with your public.
Even a private entity, like a utility, with a pretty obvious mission and type of service — will find it challenging to get much done without resistance if it doesn’t have the public’s trust.
Those fortunate enough to have credibility with the public can’t rest on that long as it’s far easier to lose, than to regain.
And the way to gain it, is anything but intuitive…
Polished has a Dark Side
As professionals, you want the public to feel at ease given your level of expertise and knowledge.
So it’s natural (and easy) to create polished looking handouts, flyers, and websites as a reflection of your team’s competence.
The problem is, you might unwittingly be also sending the message that you’re further along in your plans and decision-making process than you actually are.
When you claim “We’re just beginning to look into the issue of X, Y, Z…” the public finds that counter-intuitive considering how finished your materials appear to be.
If you’re really in the preliminary stages of a project, have your slides, handouts, and delivery of information reflect that.
Use like butcher paper and markers to outline information and simultaneously communicate — you really are in the “head-scratching” stage!
If you haven’t even settled on the project’s name — show those nominated and what, if anything, has already been ruled out.
Otherwise, you show up at a meeting asking for “input” and the public immediately senses you’re further along than you are because of the mediums through which you’re sharing information.
Find a way to make the medium communicate where in the process you are to help bolster your credibility.
Your Grandmother isn’t Fooled
You’re not fooling anyone. Not even Grandma.
You know it, we know it — no one is perfect. Not even your highly capable, dedicated, and talented team.
So why give signals otherwise?
Not only are you not fooling anyone. You’re making the public more cynical and skeptical about your sense of reality if you don’t openly admit to your team’s mistakes, gaffes, and mismanagement.
No one said this one is easy. But it is critical.
Without this level of humility and honesty, your credibility with the public will never be cultivated.
It’s Not All Roses
It’s tempting to get so focused on the benefits of the project at hand that you fail to get the public to appreciate — there will be drawbacks.
Drawbacks aren’t a sign of poor technical work, they’re a reality when you’re addressing serious and complex community problems.
Yes, share the project’s PROs — but only after you’ve really underlined the CONs. Otherwise, your credibility is in jeopardy as it appears you’re blind to these negative impacts.
Worse yet — you’ll seem oblivious about those who will feel them the most.
Explain that even given the negative impacts — and who exactly will feel them the most — this is STILL the right way to proceed.
(We know this is no tall order! But it is achievable as it’s at the heart of our whole Consent-Building methodology.)
The Short Cut to Credibility
Nurturing and protecting your credibility isn’t easy or even natural. If it were, everyone who deserves it would have it.
Even putting these three practices to work for your team will likely take some effort and won’t feel natural.
And that’s what developing credibility really takes — guts.
It’ll take the guts to go against your own reflexes, your team’s, your boss’, and your organization’s entrenched practices.
If being like nearly everyone else — frustrated, ineffective, distrusted — is your goal. Then you’re reading the wrong blog. Go back to the uphill battle that never ends of doing “business as usual.”
But if you want to have your public’s respect, trust, and credibility — then having the guts to follow these and our overall Consent-Building methodology will land you in a whole new paradigm.
We have case-study after case-study to back up these points on credibility (and many more) from the nearly 40,000 public professionals like you we’ve trained.
Gimmicks won’t gain you an ounce of credibility. Even the best PR eventually backfires.
With Consent-Building there’s NO gimmicks, NO trickery, NO spin. Just genuine honesty, humility, and dedication to your mission.
Upcoming training: Our “SDIC” Consent-Building training helps technical subject-matter experts (responsible for tackling difficult problems) get their proposals IMPLEMENTED … in what is – after all – a POLITICAL decision-making process!
That’s how we make you and your agency more effective: Helping you accomplish your mission by developing the Informed Consent of your fiercest opponents.
Being attacked is never easy… For many public-sector professionals, it never stops either.
Some members of the public act like making negative comments and online attacks on public officials is a sport.
And as anti-government attitudes heat up, so do the hateful social media posts toward public professionals. So how are you supposed to respond? Here are a couple of tips.
(Note, for our full Consent Building eBook on the topic, click here)…
1. Leverage Negative Comments to Better Inform Your Opponents
Start by assuming the inflammatory or hateful comments have been made by an actual person, with legitimate concerns about your agency, and the projects you’re working on.
2. Resist getting emotionally sucked in — publicly or privately.
Think of an attack as a hook dangling online… Don’t bite! Expect what you say privately in response to online attacks to be made public anytime someone Googles your name, agency, or project (including texts, emails, and comments made within the confines of your office space).
Don’t wait too long, but gather your thoughts (and cool) before responding.
3. Never ignore or disregard negative comments.
See each of these as a chance to make progress on the issues being aired, the misunderstandings that linger, and your overall credibility. To the “silent majority” watching from the sidelines, if you don’t respond to attacks you look tone-deaf, and conveniently inclined to only acknowledge the positive, or more tempered comments regarding your work.
People who didn’t necessarily question your work or motives,start to wonder if you’re online presence is purely self-serving. Responding only to the to level-headed and complimentary comments actually creates cynicism where it didn’t necessarily exist before.
Even though it’s natural to want to ignore the negative and most extreme comments, doing so will actually hurt your credibility among the broader community.
For more the full list of tips, please download our free Consent-Building eBook on this topic. Click here!
What’s become known as the “Aarhus Model” is an interesting take on developing trust with extremists — even those who are tempted to flee to Syria and support ISIS.
It touches on the underpinnings of what we discussed in this month’s Consent-Building Clinic #83, and what we’ve taught in our CPO-2 course that focuses on dealing with extremists.
That is, it’s not enough to say you care — you have to demonstrate it.
Look into the work of a handful of detectives in the Danish town of Aarhus, who rather than vilify teenagers tempted to join ISIS fighters in Syria, asked them to meet for coffee and then actually listened to how they became so disaffected with their homeland.
For many, if not most of those burgeoning terrorists, being heard caused them to finally believe what the officials and others were saying: they DID care about these youths and their frustrations.
Moreover, the police detectives acknowledged and validated the source of the teenagers’ feelings.
They HAD been treated unfairly, and while that was true they need not abandon Denmark and become radicalized to even the score.
Also laid out before them was that if they continued down the path of terrorism offered by ISIS, these teenagers could expect a grim future . . .
Things in Burns, Oregon might get have officially turned ugly.
And while the folks at the wildlife refuge in Oregon aren’t your average opponents, their stance isn’t legitimate, there is an element of their stance that no public official should ignore…
Unfortunately, NO ONE is immune from anti-government attitudes.
(Ironically, especially in a democracy… But we’ll cover that topic on March 8th in Clinic #78.)
Because this attitude is something you either ARE dealing with or likely WILL be confronted with, we’ve adopted “Anti-Government” as our theme for all of our monthly Consent-Building Clinics in 2016.
In a self-governing society, it’s THE PUBLIC who decides — via our rules based decision-making process — what government institutions it wants to create and maintain.
If you encounter stakeholders who perceive an “Us vs. Them” relationship between the (them) public and (you) the government . . . something’s gone wrong.
Chances are it’s simply a misunderstanding . . . a misperception.
Because even “simple” misperceptions can be challenging to correct, don’t expect that lecturing these folks is going to change their view of the world.
Your stakeholders need to discover . . . they need to see — with their own eyes — and conclude on their own terms that it’s ultimately THEY, the people (i.e. all of us) who make all the decisions.
It’s WE, the people, who created your agency and it’s mission.
It’s critical that your stakeholders realize this paradigm-changing insight.
But how do you stimulate you stakeholders to have such a critical insight?
While there’s no quick-fix, there IS much you can do.
The first of which begins by answering 6 Questions
In addition to the recording of this webinar, we’ve created a follow-up video with 6 questions to help you make real headway in preventing such attitudes from being aimed at you and your organization.
Starting with the basics in this recorded webinar, we delve into every angle of WHY Anti-Government sentiments are ratcheting up all across the country, and WHAT you can do to diffuse them, and even better yet — PREVENT them in the first place — from impeding your ability to accomplish your mission.
In this session, we’ll cover something so SIMPLE and yet POWERFUL . . .
6 Points We Cover
1. How you DEFINE “public” and “stakeholder” plays a central role in anti-government attitudes towards you and your agency.
2. Whom should you INCLUDE and EXCLUDE in your definition?
3. Should your definition of your “public” and related “stakeholders” SHIFT from project to project?
4. How should you handle people who THINK they are affected?
5. What’s the appropriate ROLE of number of constituents, majority vs. minority opinions, and representativeness?
6. How to identify WHICH of the 4 Fundamental Points your team is failing to address.
Don’t be caught off guard by anti-government attitudes that are sweeping the country!
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