Norman Ng

Why Its Hard To Say The Truth

In Crisis Communications, Public Relations on September 8, 2011 at 17:27

Thomas Friedman, 3x Pulitzer recipient recently wrote an op-ed column in the NYT on “The Whole Truth and Nothing But“. He reflected that democracies, economies and nation building are failing because political leaders have lied to the world. From the Libya revolt, Eurozone crash, and debt ridden USA, all the have in common are leadership which have failed to convey hard truths.

It’s amazing how I’m starting to witness new terms that are prominently featured, from “we’re in technical recessions..but its not a recession – actually”, or even this,”we are starting to see a glimmer on the long road to recovery”…tell me something new – Please.

Why is it so hard to dish out the dirt and entire truth? Why on the sugar coatings? Why is it so hard to manage good public relations and crisis communications?

Fear of Reprisals: It’s never comfortable to be in the spotlight, particularly if you’re breaking the bad news. Because people naturally want to find scapegoats to bash, people need to release all the pent up negative energies on issues. From the onset that bad news breaks out, its viral, its contagious and its going to hit you in a relentless torrent of punches. So naturally, it’s never “bad news”…it’s “issues of some concern….”, it’s “on our radar, and working on it”….they’re going to lose their jobs, protesters will mass against you, even your dog will begin to snap at you…Whatever the case, we all KNOW it’s bad news when some senior management folk starts to mention such issues. So be warned.

Senseless Pride: No one wants anything bad to occur on their watch. Jobs should be created, children should be educated, the old folks should be adequately taken care of, all in their watch. But when 9/11 strikes or a tsunami / nuclear crisis hits, man made vs. natural catastrophies, tough and real decisions need to be done. It’s a question of whether you want to be remembered for all the good things, or for doing the right things. So when tax cuts prevailed during the Bush administration in the midst of two wars, it’s a cowboy swinging a lasso in the high hollywood sun with senseless pride. How in the world do you string in a war on terrorism with tax cuts? Amazing. So fast forward, the Obama administration has the unpleasant but necessary task to tell the world, in timely fashion on what the truth is, on what it really takes to get things in order. Because on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, we are on the verge of a very new world order, with developed economies at the brink of drowning in depth, calamity and senseless pride.

Confidence on Capabilities: Lastly, in a less negative way, are that some leaders believe that they can turn things around, the confidence that their team, their resources and collective action can bring relief towards crisis issues. “You can take your time, but time is running out…” We all wish to live in a perfect economy and society, but in reality, its far from perfect. Therein exist the constant pressure for issues in society and economies to be addressed instantaneously. Doesn’t help that the way we are educated and informed are just as instantaneous.So the pressure’s live, and it’s boiling every second you’re reading this sentence. Leaders, administrators, need to learn how to let it go.There’s only this much we can do today, in the present. So it’s important to calibrate our confidence and there are limits to our immediate capabilities.

There are issues that will take generations to solve, of course, the action processes can start today, starting with us, but leaders will have to pass on this flag of responsibility to our children, and our children’s children. There’s only this much we can do today, in the present. So it’s important to calibrate our confidence and there are limits to our immediate capabilities.

It’s the hard truth, isn’t it?

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  1. Nothing beats the truth — plain and unvarnished — in a crisis. That is why Churchill’s Blood, Sweat, and Tears speech is remembered and why it galvanised the British into resisting Hitler when, if they had listened to excuses they would have probably made peace with the tyrant.

    Truth is the only thing that works in a crisis if you want to emerge with your reputation dented but still intact rather than shattered irrecoverably. BP admitted liability and is cleaning up in the Gulf of Mexico some people still buy the company products. If they had not done so — despite the cost of the clean up — the whole company would be dead in the USA.

    The ultimate truth will come out in the end and I am willing to bet that pouring tons of water onto the damaged platform by the authorities made things worse not better. Truth as they say, will out.

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