Geoffrey Stackhouse, Managing Director, Clarity Solutions
Fighting anger with anger is always inflammatory and it's a losing strategy. Whether it's a crisis, an issue or just a spat with your partner, smart communicators embrace the outrage and work with public opinion, not against it.
The Chinese and Australian governments have both faced major public outrage recently. In a novel twist, the Chinese government has taught Canberra a humiliating lesson in good communication.
In China, celebrity news anchor Chai Jing released Under the Dome, a shocking Al Gore-style doco exposing China’s pollution problems.
She takes aim at the government, blaming poor regulation, growth addiction and even state owned monopolies for the crisis. And that's not a great career move in China.
The film has gone viral with more than 150 million views in just 48 hours.
Rather than vilify Ms Chai or take aim at her content, China's environment minister Chen Jining held a press conference to praise her efforts, comparing her work to the ground breaking 1962 documentary Silent Spring. He also texted her to thank her for raising public environmental consciousness.
Mr Chen embraced the outrage and defused the potential for mass public protest. Showing he had heard the people positions him as part of the solution and gives him a right of reply to outline what he is doing to fix the problem.
In contrast, Australia's Attorney General George Brandis has now been censured by the Senate over the Government’s handling of The Forgotten Children report by President of the Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs.
The Government's communication was badly handled and a case study in what NOT to do.
It took former Liberal Senator Amanda Vanstone to point out that the Government could have avoided the reputational damage by embracing the outrage and focusing on what could be done to help the children.
In a powerful opinion piece, Vanstone argues it would have been more effective to say: "Thanks, we are trying to fix Labor's mess, we want the number to go back to zero as it was when we last left office".
Instead, attacking the report and the Commissioner ensured the issue stayed in the media for weeks, causing the government major embarrassment.
So what can you do when faced with a hostile situation?
1. Embrace the outrage: Work out what you have done to offend people, identify what their primal concern is, and show that you get it.
2. Focus on actions: Don’t just narrate the problem, show what actions you are taking to address the underlying issue.
3. Play the ball, not the woman: Blaming the victim or shooting the messenger are straight out of a 1980s crisis playbook. In the black and white, heroes versus villains world of social media, the public (and the media) will always side with the underdog.