Posted by JC on October 2nd, 2009
Let’s assume that you’re the Chief Executive of The Big Blue Bus Company in a major metropolitan centre. You’ve been in negotiation with the union over a proposed new workplace contract. The negotiations have stalled. You’re offering a 2% wage increase and the union is demanding 5.7%. A driver work-to-rule has been in operation for two weeks, causing huge inconvenience to the public, and the union is threatening a full-scale strike. There’s talk of drivers in other centres coming out in sympathy. You believe that the rank and file members of the union want to see an end to the disruption and would accept considerably less that the 5.7% increase. Every newspaper, radio and TV station wants to talk to you.
But who do you want to talk to and what do you want to say?
These are questions which you have to ask yourself before accepting any invitation to be interviewed: Is there a specific audience which I am trying to reach? What message am I trying to get across to that audience? What is my agenda in this interview?
As CEO of the Blue Bus Company, for example, your agenda might be:
If you don’t know why you’re there, if you haven’t identified the particular audience or audiences you want to reach, then you aren’t ready to accept the invitation at all.
And there can be a further difficulty – your agendas may conflict. For example, in placing what you regard as ‘the facts’ before the general public, you may alienate both the union and its members, thus aggravating the situation.
A similar dilemma will face the Secretary of the union. If his main agenda in being interviewed is to persuade drivers across the country not to accept the contract, he risks losing the support of an already disgruntled public. On the other hand, if he’s too conciliatory, he risks losing the support of his members.
We always suggest that, if an interview area’s controversial, you should discuss it with colleagues before accepting media invitations. Two or more heads are usually better than one. If there’s a general consensus that the interview isn’t likely to be in your interests or those of the organisation, or if it’s just too darned tricky, then it would seem foolhardy to accept. If in doubt, trust your instincts.
The problem with the scenario you present is that the CEO and the union can provide interviews to two different media outlets, tell the truth, but the public ends up with entirely different pictures. The issue is polarising. There are those who have a natural sympathy with the workers and will not believe a word that the CEO says and others just want the bus to turn up on time and regard the union boss as a reincarnation of Stalin.
Unless you have something important to say and are able to present facts that are indisputable you may as well stay quiet. Most interviews of this type start with patently insincere apologies to the inconvenienced public followed by entirely subjective opinions as to why the interviewee represents the path of righteousness.
Personally, I mentally switch off to interviews involving industrial disputes since i know that the chances of my hearing an objective assessment of the rights and wrongs are remote. It is like the earlier discussion about good and bad professions, as to which list the CEO and the union boss happen to belong.
As an aside, and a question the media never ask, why does a work to rule cause such disruption? Does human existence depend on our collectively ignoring rules? And if they can be safey ignored why have them in the first place?
Great information. It’s really useful. Thanks