Personal Public Relations:
As a key member of the community each agency
staff person talks with and works with a lot of others interested in children’s
well-being. Included here are teachers, physicians, therapists, and many
others. Staff also talk with friends, family members, and neighbors. When they
are having those personal conversations, they are representing themselves and
their families. They are also representing the agency and other members of the
Children’s Safety Net.
They are, for the people they talk with, the
current public relations representative for many people and organizations,
especially yours. What’s more, staff are quite likely the only public relations
representatives others will talk with today and perhaps the only ones they will
ever talk with. Whatever direct experience they have with child protection, the
experience will be with that staff person.
Each of the people staff talk with has heard
the bad news, read the screaming headlines, and has been told over and over
that things are a mess. If they are to get the other side of the story, they
must get it now from your staff.
Being a public relations representative is
not always easy. Sometimes, things are upsetting and people seem to go out of
their way to be rude or difficult. At those times, yelling at them or just
ignoring them and pretending they are not there feel like good things to do. At
other times, the temptation may be to confront people and get into arguments
that no one can win. The point is that there are going to be people and
situations where being a public relations representative is not easy. It will
take all of the skill and self-control you can muster. Especially for those
times, these ten interpersonal techniques will be valuable.
Since practice is important, staff should be
encouraged to practice the techniques every time they get a chance whether it
is a public relations opportunity or not. For what it is worth, the techniques
are also useful with family members, co-workers, and even with teens when they
are being difficult. These are techniques for troublesome conversations. They
should be kept in mind anytime a conversation seems to be heating up, going in
the wrong direction, or getting you or others upset. They are, of course,
especially useful when staff are in their public relations representative role.
When others are talking, do not interrupt, start talking, or let yourself
get distracted. Give the other person your undivided attention.
When the other person stops talking, clarify what you think the main
message was. “Your point is (Try to briefly summarize the other
person’s main point.) Is that correct? Do I understand your main
point?” If they say “No,” listen again and then try again
to summarize the main point.
Once the other person agrees that you have correctly heard the main point,
probe a little more. Say, “Help me understand your point a little
better. Why do you think your point is correct? What experience or
information led you to that conclusion?” Why do you think that?”
your thoughts: Once you have carefully listened, clarified the other
person’s main point, and probed a little to be sure that you understand,
it is time to briefly and clearly present your thoughts. In as few words
as possible, tell the other person what your thoughts are on that topic.
Do not start with, “I disagree,” or “That’s not
right.” A good approach is to say, “Thank you for sharing your
thoughts about that with me. Based on my experience and the information I
have, I think What are your thoughts or reactions to my
perspective?”–Now, start again with listening.
still: Your body language is important. Make a special effort to hold
still, not move your hands, not look around, and not move closer to the
other person or farther away. Also, do not roll your eyes or let your face
give away your feelings. Remember, you are listening carefully and not
judging or reacting to what the other person is saying.
calm: It is important to avoid getting visibly upset or angry. Along with
listening you want the other person to know that you are listening. You
are giving them your calm, undivided attention. If you are having trouble
staying calm, the best way to settle yourself down is to quietly slow your
breathing. Do this without being obvious. Just focus on slowly breathing
in and out. That, by itself, will calm you. The other person will see you
as attentive and relaxed.
quietly: When things show signs of getting tense, talking quietly is a
very effective technique. Of course, you do not want to whisper or talk so
quietly that the other person cannot hear you. All you need to do is talk
a little quieter than the other person is talking. Fairly quickly, you
will notice that they are starting to talk more quietly. You can then talk
even a little more quietly. Continue this until you are both talking at a
normal conversational level. You will see that by then things are a lot
slowly: Controlling how fast you talk works just like talking more
quietly. You start by talking a little slower than the other person is
talking. Fairly quickly, you will notice that they are starting to talk
more slowly. You then slow down your speech rate a little more. Keep this
up until you are both talking normally. With both talking quietly and
talking slowly, watch for those times when things start heating back up.
If the other person starts talking louder and faster, start the process
again to get them talking quieter and more slowly.
go: The other person has made their point and you clearly understand their
perspective or belief. You have briefly stated your thoughts or belief. If
you agree with each other, everything is fine. If not, it is tempting to
try to convince them that you are right and they are wrong. That is always
a mistake. You need to simply let go. Say, “I appreciate talking with
you about this. Understanding your perspective is helpful. I will think
about what you have shared with me.” Now, let it go. Change the
subject, do something else, but whatever you do, do not let it get back
into an argument. That will do nothing but leave you both upset.
let go: The other person likely is not familiar with these interpersonal
techniques. Even though you try to let go and move onto other things, the
other person keeps pushing, trying to get you to agree with them and
accept their point of view. They persist in trying to get you into one of
those arguments that will go nowhere. First, listen calmly until they stop
talking. Now say, “I can see that this is really important to you and
that you have very strong feelings about it. I will think more about what
you have shared with me. I do appreciate your taking time to share your
thoughts with me about this. Perhaps we can discuss it again after I have
had time to consider what you have shared.” Now, let it go. If the
other person keeps talking, quietly listen but say no more on that topic.