Wednesday, May 10, 2017 - 16:38

With debate now off and running on the Australian Budget brought down last night, it brings back the question of confrontation and what can be done about it.

In politics one side makes its pitch and then of course the other side has to have their say. In shooting down what was put forward, the guide says you try and go for something which the public will accept, whether this is accurate or not; as with the scare on healthcare before the last election. A debate will then rage to and fro but one wonders whether politicians and their advisers have ever studied the basics of negotiation.

Teaching Communications Rule 1.01 on an MBA course, following Harvard's old adage of "When confronted by criticism on an issue in a company, never respond", this remains good advice.

The rationale is that any response invokes a confrontation. If you say nothing it might just go away. Alternatively it can be replaced by another more worthy news item and your problem melts into history. Yes it might be uncomfortable as journalists try to goad a reaction but if a company just pulls up the draw bridge it becomes a siege and today with the need for instant gratification, chances are the hoards will go away.

Of course Journalism 1.01 teaches journalists that if the target does not respond, go after someone close to the subject under attack and try and get something which will force a response from the main quarry. Again, when under attack, it is hard to let a lot of innuendo go unchallenged but overall the basic principal of don't respond still applies.

Bob Hawke holding some sort of record in this, would simply hit anyone going after him with a writ which put the issue sub judice so that then as an ongoing legal matter it could no longer be pursued and usually it just faded away.

Rule number 2 is never admit anything, even if it seems fairly incriminating. Especially under the heat of the moment when attacked, there is the tendency to lead with the mouth not the mind. An illustration of this was the poor lady I had last week who rear ended another car with a baby in it. She was quite distraught and went on about how bad she felt etc. and of course knew that rear ending automatically puts you at fault. She was ready to make a statement to police. But after some questioning it turned out that the woman in front had pulled out unexpectedly, from a "no stopping zone", and to top it off, the brakes of the offending vehicle had recently been changed by the husband and had since shown faults. Now the accident of course was distressing to everyone but all of the facts don't point to a conclusion immediately. Back to Rule number 1. Any concession one makes could imply guilt even as the above example shows, there can be extenuating factors.

Rule number 3 is that if anything eventually has to be said, it should be limited to one spokesman. I still laugh at a guideline in a NAUI diving manual which recommended "If there is a diving incident, tell everyone to keep quiet and when back ashore, appoint a spokesman to deal with any questions, preferably someone who knows nothing about diving. See the link to Rule 1 and 2.

Of course politicians are limited in this luxury as they do have to face the press when they present a budget and now a days it seems hard to keep back-benchers in parliament from having their "two bob's worth" on any subject, former Prime Ministers included. All they can hope for is that they get more pluses than minuses in the ratings and that the negatives as they usually do, soon fade away. But often people just say too much...