Monthly Archives: October 2006

The Role of “Loyal Opposition” – Both Risky and Rewarding

Like Bill Nielsen and Ray Jordan, I would feel better about this if I knew someone out there was listening and benefiting from this monologue, which I would prefer to be a dialogue. 

      My thoughts today deal with playing the role of “Loyal Opposition” when participating in discussions leading to important decisions.  It can be both risky and rewarding, but in my view it is one of the key contributions an experienced public relations professional can make to the decision-making process.  Even more important if it is a viewpoint that represents “the public interest.” 

      I have always felt that the public relations professional should be more attuned to “the public interest” than anyone else on the senior staff.  It is an important part of our area of responsibility. 

      When I went to Johnson & Johnson to help form its first public relations department I had come from the city room of a large newspaper – where opinions and beliefs are constantly challenged.  I naively thought it was the same in corporations. 

      The then chairman and CEO decided that the new PR department would report to him (and that’s the way it has wisely remained at J&J).  At an early discussion on an important decision I had the temerity to disagree with a decision that was evolving.  The subject had to do with the way an important announcement would be interpreted by the public.  Fortunately, my position proved to be right and I persuaded the others to see it my way.  That was my entry into the minefield of “Loyal Opposition.”  

      The importance of playing this role comes as no revelation to many of you who do it well.  For those who are wary, I offer encouragement. 

      When you are reasonably confident that your good judgment and knowledge of the subject strengthens your opposing view, become the “loyal opposition” even if most or all others are against you, including the CEO. 

      If you are right more often than you are wrong your views will be sought repeatedly.  Your value will be enhanced and your counseling will attain new levels of importance, especially to the CEO.  There will always be others in the room fearful about taking an opposing position.  You should not be. 

      I recommend being thoughtful about your decision, not disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing.  That gets you nowhere.  But often you will find that an opposing view stimulates more discussion, and even if your point is not adopted there is added value in stirring discussion.  Sometimes a compromise decision emerges. 

      It doesn’t have to be the CEO who is running the meetings.  It can be anyone in charge.  By raising concerns about a questionable decision you see emerging, and doing it in a diplomatic way, you will be serving your company and enhancing your own reputation as someone who is a vital part of important discussion leading to important decisions. 

      Your response to this bit of advice may be “Well, doesn’t everyone do this?”  The answer is an emphatic “No.”  How many times have you left a meeting and someone (maybe you) said:  “I wanted to tell them I thought they were wrong.”

 

(Posted by Larry Foster)

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Greetings from an intrepid, yet somehow cautious, traveler…

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 With apologies to my colleagues, Ray and Larry, for taking so long to enter this space, here is my first entry for Calm Patient and Good-Humored.

Frankly, I find this new form of communication to be very intimidating. I’m sure that’s why it has taken me so long to do this. Larry and I exchanged e-mails early on about Ray’s suggestion that the three of us collaborate on a blog. It seemed like a good idea …at first. Then came the reality of posting for … who knows? … to read.

I guess this made me realize that down deep, I have always wanted to be in control of my messages and thoughts until I was certain I was right and could prevail on a point of view. So in this give and take environment, it has taken me awhile to work up the courage to put my thoughts out there. We’ll see how it goes.

I’m sharing this little confession at the outset because I believe many others feel as I do. If so, I’d love to hear how you’re dealing with it and whether you’ve gotten over it.

Enough of that!

Of all the Principles of practice attributed to Arthur W. Page, I have always found “Remain calm patient and good-humored” to be my favorite. I think that’s because it suits my personal style.

In the many crisis situations I’ve dealt with over the years, it was always easier to see your way forward if you could get people involved and concerned to just calm down so you could talk through the situation.

Ralph Larsen, Johnson & Johnson’s ceo during the 1990s was a master at creating a calm and steady environment for discussion. Even during the worst moments, he would say, “this, too, shall pass.” It was such a liberating comment. Of course it was easy for him to say that; he was the ceo. But in setting that tone, he took the pressure off and assured that cool heads would prevail. And, I think we reached better decisions as a result. I know we did!

“Remain calm, patient and good-humored” is a mantra that we could use more widely in society. The lack of civility in public discourse, especially in political rhetoric that is inflamed in the media, makes it nearly impossible to reach a consensus on anything. We need more leaders who exhibit a tone of reason, who care enough about establishing a common ground for the public good to want to embrace opposing views with calming speech, patience and good humor.

More on this in a future post.

So, thanks, Ray, for picking a great thematic for this discussion place.

(Posted by Bill Nielsen)

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