Kona's best friend Cody got into a bit of a scuffle in the dogpark the other day. Cody is very jealous where Kona is concerned, particularly when he first arrives and has to separate her from the crowd. This was the case here and Cody mixed it up with an unfamiliar dog. The overreaction of the inexperienced owner of the other dog, highlighted a number of conflict resolution concepts that experienced dog owners seem to have evolved.
Let the participants settle it themselves. Like mothers with crying babies, a good dog owner can usually tell whether the fight has the potential to escalate or is merely one dog giving another a strong warning. In the latter case, once the warning is acknowledged the conflict is over. Sometimes the conflict is over before you have time to consider whether to intervene.
Intervene only if its serious. Getting between two scuffling dogs can be risky, particularly if they weigh in excess of 70 lbs like Cody does. It's not something you want to do if you can avoid it. This is why letting the participants resolve the conflict themselves can be a good option.
Be careful not to make things worse. If you become upset, you can communicate these feelings to the participants and increase their emotional investment in the conflict. Losing your objectivity and becoming emotionally involved can make the conflict worse.
Intervention need not be drastic. Separate two dogs for a few minutes and suddenly they're pals again. Sometimes just getting participants calmed down allows for swift resolution of the conflict.
Sometimes you just have to walk away. In this case, the owner was more of a problem than his dog, so Cody had to go home. There are occasionally conflicts that can't be resolved and you just have to move on.
The Salvation Army has been under fire for alleged discrimination against homosexuals, so when Major Andrew Craibe, Territorial Media Relations Director for the Southern Territory in Australia, was invited to be interviewed by two LGBT journalists for a local radio station last June he probably thought it was a good chance to set the record straight. Instead, he created a public relations disaster.
If you listen to the broadcast, Craibe starts out on message and it's a good one: the Salvation Army does not discriminate in employment, provision of services, or participation in worship. However, the Salvation Army, as do many other Christian organizations, believes that homosexuality is a sin proscribed by the Bible and prohibits membership in the church by active LGBT people. As the reporters began asking questions based on this belief, Craibe first creates a faux pas by using an argument that is offensive to the LGBT community and then let's himself be drawn off message to support a controversial biblical passage that claims that those engaging in homosexual practices "deserve death." Craibe's poor defense of the passage and lack of preparation resulted in world-wide headlines along the lines of "Senior Salvation Army Officials believe gays should be put to death!"
The Salvation Army issued an immediate apology and statement that it did not advocate the death of LGBT people but the damage was already done.
So what can we learn from this? There are three simple rules to keep in mind when participating in a potentially hostile interview:
Like the old World War II quote, "Is this trip really necessary?" Opening a dialog and telling your side of the story is an essential part of crisis communications. But make sure that the interviewer will actually let you do this. If you haven't done your homework on the interviewer, his or her bias, and the nature of the audience, don't accept the interview.
Do your homework on the community to which you will be speaking. Any cultural group has words or concepts that they find offensive. Remember that it is not about what you believe personally but about what the audience is hearing. Just as you would not use racially-charged language when speaking to a minority group, don't use insulting language to other groups out of ignorance. You can make your point without alienating your audience.
Stay on message. Hostile questions are intended to put you on the defensive and to make you say things you will later regret. Be prepared for the hard questions. With a little thought,
you can pretty much figure out what questions will be asked and you
should have answers ready or at least a strategy for dealing with them.
There are any number of techniques available for dealing with hostile
questions but you won't remember them if you haven't prepared.
Having the courage to engage a potentially hostile interviewer is not a bad thing but failing to prepare for that interview is. I'll have more to say on this subject in this month's featured article in my newsletter, Emergency Management Solutions.
Thanks to my friend and colleague Bill Nicholson for calling this incident to my attention.