James E. Lukaszewski ABC,APR, Fellow PRSA, President of the Lukaszewski Group Division of Risdall McKinney Public Relations

When we analyze what causes management communications programs to implode, explode, derail, self-destruct, or simply slide into the ditch, there are identifiable behaviors and activities that precede or predict disaster or negative collateral damage. Here’s a checklist of what are the most destructive behaviors, attitudes, and approaches. If any of these are included in your communication or the behaviors of management, you’re already in trouble. If someone you know is even thinking about using them, recognize the damage they will cause and STOP THEM NOW.

  1. Arrogance: Opposite of empathy. Taking action without consulting those directly or indirectly affected means you don’t care because you don’t want to. # 3 cause of litigation.
  2. Bland generalities: The stone wall behind which the guilty try to hide, but everybody knows it.
  3. Cold logic: An organization without empathy, a kind word for victims, or a tear is an organization without a heart. It is also an organization that will fail alone. # 2 cause of litigation.
  4. Complexity: The foggy, fuzzy hiding place of the guilty, complicit, or negligent.
  5. Emotionalism: Usually a form of whining and victim confusion.  The perpetrating organization focuses on itself and its navel instead of resolving real victim issues.
  6. Evil: The combination of arrogance, deception, and remorseless, wicked, corrupt behavior. Yes there are evil people and organizations out there.
  7. Hitting back: Attacks on or demeaning victims assures your destruction. # 4 cause of litigation
  8. Hot rhetoric: Guarantees the perpetrator’s own incineration legally, rhetorically, publicly, and emotionally.
  9. Mindless verbiage: Usually self-congratulatory or self-forgiving rhetoric. We all recognize it as an indicator of guilt, duplicity, or stupidity. Sometimes called Verbal Vegetables . . . words you know you’ll have to eat later, the moment they come out of your mouth.
  10. Negative communication: Non-communication, destructive, always causes confusion, is erroneous, and in some respect are always lies. # 1 creator of victims and enemies.
  11. No comment: Guarantees that seven out of 10 believe you are guilty of something.
  12. Oversimplification: Underestimates the intelligence of victims and audiences, frustrates and angers those who are fearful and uncomfortable. They become very tough adversaries.
  13. Half truths: A high-risk message strategy that eventually backfires to burn reputations and careers. Also known as Half-lies.
  14. Silence: The most toxic strategy of all. If they won’t answer the easy questions, what else are they hiding? Silence always translates into an assumption of guilt.

These behaviors are a form of testosterosis. Both genders of leaders suffer from this malady. It’s the urge to hit back first and see what happens. It is learned first in the sandbox, then perfected in business or law school. When bad things happen, these corrosive behaviors tend to surface fast and first.

 Predict them, attack them, expose them, rout them out, inhibit them, and stop them. The cost for repairing the collateral or direct damage to reputation, credibility, and trust is enormous. Very often these behaviors lead to a career defining moment for the leader who forgets him or herself. Or, who unleashes these behaviors through others.

The number one communication goal in crisis is reduction of the production of victims, critics and enemies. They never die and bleed all over you or the perpetrating organization at every opportunity, forever.