Sunday, December 19, 2010

How to make enemies

As a young newspaper reporter, a wise editor once offered some great advice. If someone calls you, upset about a story you did and accuses you of libeling them or printing false statements - don't go into a defensive mode. Instead, calmly listen to the complaint, tell the caller you will look into it and, if true, will discuss a possible apologize and possibly print a correction.

It's not about your ego, he said. It's about conflict resolution.... which weren't the exact words he used, but essentially it meant the same thing.

It's much easier to diffuse a touchy situation than to keep your guard up, do battle and really tick off the other party. The harder stance and more defensive you become could lead to a lawsuit. The "understanding" stance will bring the heat level down by several notches. Angry people file lawsuits or find other ways to make your life miserable.

"Diffusing" the situation is advice I've given multiple time to clients. Sometimes in the course of everyday media relations, sometimes in the heat of a crisis.

I was reminded of this after reading a story in The Wall Street Journal about financial support for Lance Armstrong and U.S. cycling.

In this story, it becomes clear an early supporter of Lance and his quest for Tour de France titles later became an enemy bent on revenge after a business dispute. The dispute is now very visible, which has put Lance under more intense scrutiny (about doping allegations. Based on what you read, which is all we have, it appears the initial steps in this business dispute could have been handled differently - and, if so, Lance may not be facing a more public, broader set of allegations. (For the record, I am a Lance supporter. The guy worked his tail off and won 7 TDF titles - after beating cancer.)

Sure, examining the dispute - via a news article - is second guessing and arm-chair quarterbacking. And, who knows? Even if the parties were more gracious at the start, the results may have stayed the same.

There is, however, plenty of other similar examples where diffusing a tricky situation at the start saves you plenty of headaches later.

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