Communicating Amidst Controversy: Getting Your Point Across Without Making Enemies
Media can help get your information out on controversial issues.
What is controversy?
- Strongly polarized opinions.
- High emotions.
- Opposing sides may use loaded rhetoric to persuade.
- Increase awareness of issues.
- Provide science education to the public.
- To establish yourself as an expert source.
Why would reporters call me?
- They want to be fair.
- They value accuracy.
On controversial topics, it’s usually best to be seen as…
- Fully aware of all sides of the issue.
- Speaking from experience or research-based knowledge.
Should you ever take sides?
- It’s not news if you stay completely in the middle. You can, however, provide context, insight and analysis when you do.
- If your research or experience tends to favor one side or another, say so.
Expert vs. personal opinion
- Expert opinions are research and experience-based. That doesn’t mean they’re always in the middle.
- Personal opinions need no basis and probably should stay private.
When asked about your (opposing) view…
- Briefly acknowledge other views, but go back to your message.
- Don’t dwell on controversy. Steer interview to higher ground.
- Don’t speculate on goals, attitudes, values or hidden agendas of those who oppose your views.
Reporters may be confrontational...
- This triggers your emotions, making answers more animated.
- Keep your cool.
Attack issues, not people
- Present your data or views and stick to the issue.
- Don’t slight those with different views.
- Personal attacks may cause the public to question your motives and objectivity.
What if you are attacked in the media?
- Sometimes the best response is no response. Continued responses may prolong the attack.
- Respond only to correct misinformation reported in the news.
- Op-eds and editorials are a way to respond to attacks. Understand others’ perceptions
Risk = Hazard + Outrage
- Not fair
- No profile
- “No comment”
- No compassion
- Shared values
- A sense that “grown-ups are in charge”
- Don’t keep secrets.
- Listen to people’s concerns.
- Share power and benefits more fairly.
- Don’t expect to be trusted; focus on being accountable.
- Acknowledge efforts.
- Treat adversaries with respect.
- Persuasion is not a dirty word.
- In controversial situations, the “other side” will likely use these techniques.
- Not likely to change minds of hard-core believers, but could influence masses.
- Convey your credibility: Why are you an expert?
- Establish “common ground” with audience.
- Be objective about the topic.
- Be likable and dynamic.
- Establish a sense of urgency.
- Make sure your message is limited, not global.
- Keep it cool
- Keep it conflict-free
- Keep it contained
- Stick to the facts.
- Don’t take opposing views personally.
- Try to find common ground with those who have opposing views.
- Be comfortable with your position and with yourself.
Created by Martha Filipic, email@example.com, 12/2009