Friday, February 08, 2013

Getting Things Done. There's a Right Way and a Wrong Way.

American politics has changed – not just at the national level, but the state and local levels, too.
No matter what your party affiliation may be, no matter what your political ideology is, no matter what your top issues are, if you’ve paid any attention to the news, you’ve seen these changes.
I’m not talking about longing for “the old days” or “a simpler time” or talking about the way things were “back in my day.” That’s nostalgia, not reality.
Things have changed, and not for the better.
Issues are more divisive. Passions are more intense. Personalities are more divergent.
Allowing those to be the prevailing attitudes is not the way to get things done. Political bomb-throwers (speaking mataphorically) who deal only in absolutes are hurting their causes by refusing to bend. This doesn’t mean they should compromise their beliefs, but using a “my way or the highway” attitude in trying to persuade a House member, a senator, a county council member, or a city council representative why a position is the correct one just won’t work.
You can’t tell decision-makers that if they don’t agree with 100% of your positions 100% of the time, you and your supporters will do X.
If you do, you’ve effectively blocked all potential for discussion. You’ll be able to finish presenting your position, the person will probably smile, nod, thank you for your opinion, and walk away, but at the same time, that person is not going to truly listen to you or give your issue any additional consideration because you’ve come to him or her with demands, threats, and a complete unwillingness to listen and have a calm, rational discussion.
The same thing goes with creating an effective audience for your message. Demands, threats, and 100% compliance with your positions will turn people off.
Public relations, governmental affairs, public policy, product marketing all begin with a conversation, and to have a conversation, it can’t be single-sided.
If you have an issue you want heard by a specific audience – whether governmental, business, or consumer – first, consult a professional with expertise in that area. Let him or her know your goals and ask for advice on how to strategically work toward achieving them.
Second, listen. He or she will tell you that you’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, and that’s true. Courtesy and respect go a long way in helping forge relationships, and while a specific relationship may not yield exactly what you want at a specific time, it will help down the road when you have another issue or goal that person can agree with.
Third, don’t make an issue personal. You can agree to disagree, but that’s an issue about policy or business. Questioning someone’s integrity, heritage, upbringing, commitment, family, or religion will not win friends and supporters. Understand that if you have someone who is showing you respect and courtesy, he or she expects the same in return, and that reciprocation will help develop relationships that will serve you, your campaign, your business, or your organization better in the long run than would making a long list of enemies.
There are people who will read this and call me soft or wishy-washy, and those are people who will never understand this message. They will also be unsuccessful in achieving their long-term goals.
There are others who understand that what I’m saying is a reality that I’ve watched and learned firsthand because for a dozen years or so, I’ve been one of those professionals I advised you to consult.
Much of my professional life is navigating government’s unnavigable waters for clients and successfully crafting messaging and branding and building marketing and public affairs campaigns for politicians, organizations, businesses, and consumers. I know from experience why these things matter.
Don’t make it personal, don’t take it personally, build relationships, and approach your goals strategically – and do it all with courtesy and respect. You’ll be much more successful in the long run.
Taft Matney is a partner with TM Public Relations, a strategic communications and governmental affairs firm in Greenville, SC. Follow him on Twitter ( and "like" TMPR on Facebook (
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