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.
- Listening: When others are talking, do not interrupt, start talking, or let yourself get distracted. Give the other person your undivided attention.
- Clarification: 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.
- Probing: 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?”
- Presenting 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.
- Holding 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.
- Staying 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.
- Talking 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 less tense.
- Talking 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.
- Letting 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.
- Helping 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.