Using the Stagelights Tactic

What Can I Do When Some Stakeholders Play Dirty?

In discussing how the Stagelights Tactic gets stakeholders who play dirty to clean up their act, I wanted to add a subtle – but very important – point.

The Stagelights shame the player into better behavior; that much is observable. Psychologically, however, what I believe REALLY happens is this: the misbehaving stakeholders discover – because the bright Stagelights don’t allow them to ignore it – that their misbehavior is violating THEIR OWN values.

Why Most People Will Choose to Stop Playing Dirty

Remember from the previous Brownbag session on American Values (January 2011), what happens when something (such as our own misbehavior) violates our values: our Quality-of-Life suffers. Well, we don’t like that. So, we may choose to do ourselves a favor: often times, we choose to change our behavior so that it aligns with our personal values.

Notice, we do this for the SELFISH reason of not doing any further damage to our own Quality-of-Life.

Looking at the Values Hierarchy (page 18 of the February 2011 Brownbag handout), the values that most likely are involved in this 2nd, 3rd, and 4th levels of that hierarchy:

  • Level 2: Process-Related Values, i.e. issues of Fairness
  • Level 3: Meta-Values, which are issues of Rights, Freedoms, and Liberties
  • Level 4: Meta-Meta-Values, are issues of Responsibilities . . . which is the same as Limitations of Rights, Freedoms, and Liberties

What’s going on psychologically with the Stagelights Tactic is yet another reason for you to become a “Student of Values.” And, with that, of course, we’re talking about American Values. Americans have amazingly similar 2nd, 3rd, and 4th – level Higher Values.

That’s why in the Stagelights examples that I gave (the US Forest Service’s overhaul of its Electronic Site Leasing Fees in New Mexico and in Arizona, the Land-Use Planning incident in Laramie, WY where the Mayor talked out of both sides of his mouth, and the Los Angeles planning case where an LA City Councilor did the same thing) we could predict that – once the misbehaving stakeholders HAD TO look at their behavior – because the public-at-large was looking at that behavior – they would choose to change it.

But, as I warned you during the Brownbag session: Don’t rush into the Stagelights Tactic. It DOES constitute a form of hardball. Be sure you’ve thought it through. Be sure to “get license” to use it (which is NOT the same as asking for permission to use it.) BEFORE you go very far with it.

Remember the key phrase in getting the public’s and the stakeholders’ license: “We owe it to you . . . We owe it to you to tell you who we’re talking to, what we’re hearing, what we’re thinking . . .“

Of equal importance, be sure the light you shine is directed at the person’s behavior, not the person directly. This is the underpinning of providing constructive criticism, rather than destructive criticism.