Volume 3, Number 3, May 2003
Dealing With an Angry Public:
The Mutual Gains Approach
to Resolving Disputes
"There are many reasons for the public to be angry.
Business and government leaders have covered up mistakes,
concealed evidence of potential risks, made misleading statements,
and often lied." Such opening words from Susskind &
Field's book, Dealing with an Angry Public: The Mutual
Gains Approach to Resolving Disputes, will undoubtedly
peak one's curiousity as to the nature of this book.
The public does have a right to be angry and skeptical of
government and private sector initiatives. However, the typical
approach to handle and appease the public's outrage has always
followed a public relations model relying on obfuscation and
concealment. According to the authors, techniques such as
stonewalling, whitewashing, as well as blocking and blaming
have done nothing but fuel the public's anger even more.
Susskind and Field have recognized that a different, more
practical approach is needed. By implementing a mutual-gains
approach to dealing with the public, the authors offer a lot
of practical advice on building cooperative solutions in which
people of all personalities can create effective out-reach
campaigns. The book suggests that there exists a method for
"government agencies and private interests to approach
risks that depends neither on independent experts alone, nor
on final legislative decision-making...Decision-making about
acceptable levels and the distribution of risks should involve
all stakeholders who will bear the costs of the risky decisions
that must be made" (p.115).
The mutual-gains approach advocates six principles to deal
with an angry public:
- acknowledge the concerns of the other side.
- encourage joint fact finding.
- offer contingent commitments to minimize impacts if they
do occur, and promise to compensate knowable but unintended
- accept responsibility, admit mistakes, and share power.
- act in a trustworthy fashion at all times.
- focus on building long-term relationships.
The book serves as a great practical tool because it seems
to bridge the theory of conflict resolution as a win-win experience
with real-life scenarios. Besides the public relations employees
in the government and private sector, scholars of communication
as well as conflict resolution will benefit from this new
way of responding to public anger.