Disgust, Hostility and Propaganda

Spring is early; Etch-a-Sketch stock is going through the roof and University of Nebraska research shows that our politics might be based on our biology (and not necessarily our values). In a nutshell, it says that conservatives spend more energy “monitoring things that make them feel uncomfortable” which, in turn, may make them more receptive to campaigns that stress their fears. Liberals, on the other hand, are more drawn to hopeful plans for the future.

John Hibbing, who helped design the study, said that it was “amazing the extent to which they perceive the world differently.” We may be more hardwired than we think.

And since writing is a big part of our collective livelihoods, here’s a terrific website that you might try if you’re not already aware of it – WordHippo.com. Hope you like it and also enjoy this month’s collection.


Government Propaganda

Should public taxpayer dollars be used to conduct public relations activities for public institutions? If you’ve been communicating in the public sector for any length of time, you’ve likely been criticized over this practice (or at least had a conversation about it with colleagues or taxpayers). It’s been a favorite happy hour debate topic for years.

Strictly speaking, public involvement and public information have different objectives than traditional PR. Depending on the government agency and who might be in charge of it at the moment, however, the line gets fuzzy. If you’re a LinkedIn subscriber, I think that you’ll find the following online discussion worthwhile:


And while we’re on the subject of PR, here’s one take on issue management and that dreaded spin thing:


Disgusting Works…

Some years ago, a top notch regional ad agency that I’ve occasionally partnered with (Riester) developed an edgy, groundbreaking smoking cessation campaign that used the slogan “Tumor-causing, teeth-staining, smelly, puking habit.” It ran in 40 states and got lots of play, but also received criticism from people who found it disgusting.

Disgust is based on the taste of the beholder, but there is one simple fact: before you can communicate with, engage or influence anybody, you’ve got to get their attention. It’s not a magic bullet, it might not be germane to your situation, but there’s a lesson here: disgusting works:


Speaking is Risky Business…

And it should be. As part of the ongoing war against mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations and uninspired speeches, I offer the following column from Forbes. Stay interesting my friends!


Hostility Kills

I subscribe to The Week. I got hooked on it partly because of my short attention span, partly because of the objective role that it attempts to play and partly because of the insight it offers. William Falk’s latest Editor’s Letter follows:

Hostility kills. Chronically angry men, studies have found, are three times more likely to develop heart disease, and six times more likely to suffer a heart attack before age 55. Feeling that you’re constantly at war with idiots and villains gets your body stuck in the fight-or-flight gear; a flood of hormones and toxins raises blood pressure, narrows arteries, and eats away at your innards. This all came to mind when I heard that Andrew Breitbart had suddenly fallen dead in the street at age at 43. The über-partisan Internet warrior, said his friend Matt Labash in WeeklyStandard.com, “was a man who both loved and hated with his whole heart.” The focus of his hate was “the Democrat media complex,” which he fought with ruthless abandon night and day, while delighting in infuriating those who hated him back. When he died, conspiracy theorists wondered if the White House had rubbed him out. A better question: Did he silence himself, by loving the fight too much? He leaves a wife and four children.

Breitbart was not alone on his battlefield. Twitter lit up with taunting celebrations of his demise, and on Rolling Stone’s website, crusading liberal Matt Taibbi wrote, “Good! F— him. I couldn’t be happier that he’s dead.” In response, Breitbart allies published Taibbi’s home phone number, threatened his life, and vowed to defecate on his mother’s grave. And so it goes. For more of this kind of you-stupid-Nazi-moron vitriol, just scroll through the dozens—sometimes hundreds—of rage-filled reader “comments” on any political commentary on the Web. What grand fun it is to hate! Perhaps we should think a bit more about where rage is taking us.


A Horse Walks Into a Bar…


When dealing with emotional people, can and should you use humor to diffuse the situation? This question pops up frequently from both clients and students with regards to stressful encounters. The answer of course is, “it depends.”

Humor works under the right circumstances and with the right people, but if all the “rights” aren’t there, you’ll turn a bad encounter into a disaster.Humor is a touchy subject but, when it’s right, it’s terrific. The attached is a business story but it’s definitely applicable to the public sector:


Shameless Promotion of Great Coaching in Public Engagement

and Dealing with the Fury of the People

I’ll be in Chicago for the five-day IAP2 Public Participation Certificate course at the end of April. The best practitioners in the business have completed this course; it’s the foundational class for public involvement.

The class will be at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) in the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower in the heart of the Loop. I hope we see you there!

Understanding the essence of the “Occupy” movement, lack of civility, angry people, and managing public opposition are more important than ever. You’ll understand the anger and what to do about it during the two-day Emotion, Outrage and Public Participation (EOP2) class. This class is hands-on, immensely practical and has never been more relevant.

IAP2 Certificate class:

  • April 30 – May 4 in Chicago

EOP2 class:

  • June 4 & 5 in Vancouver
  • June 14 & 15 in Chicago
  • September 24 & 25 in Halifax

We bring customized versions of these classes and others to organizations of all kinds anywhere, so call or email me for more information.

For currently scheduled U.S. class registrations click on:


For currently scheduled Canada class registrations click on:


I’ll also be in Tucson at the Seventh National Conference on Environmental Collaboration and Conflict Resolution — ECR 2012 on May 22 delivering a half-day session around authentic public participation.Please forward this to anyone who you think might benefit from one of these classes.

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