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Truth and Fairness : Is there a difference?

April 10, 2017 2 comments

fair-vs-unfair

Many, many years ago when I was a school going kid, we lived in a small housing colony. About 12/15 houses so a rather tightly knit group of families.

At some point in time during our stay there one family moved out and another moved in. This family had one boy about my age.

Pretty soon we realized that the boy was more than a handful. He was naughty beyond belief. He had scratched cars, broken windows, plucked flowers from others gardens and so on. Each time something happened, one of the mothers would go across and complain to the boy’s mother. With the growing litany of complaints the tension between the mothers in the colony grew significantly with the boy’s mother finally just refusing to talk to any of the mothers. She said once ‘ you all are just ganging up against my son’. Pretty soon the colony was split into all families on one side and this family on the other. No more comings and goings to ‘that’ house.

Given the small community we all lived in this was really awkward for everyone concerned.

One day my grandmother came to stay with us for a while and after a couple of days she picked up on the colony dynamics and asked me what was going on. I dutifully relayed the situation to her. On hearing it, she shook her head in sadness and said she may have a solution.

A day later my grand mom went over to the house in question, some food in hand, and rang the bell. The boy’s mother opened the door and eyed my grand mom suspiciously. As she was old and had come to visit with a ‘gift’ she allowed her to come in. A few hours later, she emerged and we saw them parting with smiles all around. This continued for a few days.

Over time we started seeing a slow change in the ‘unhappy’ mother. She started checking her son for his behavior. Punishments were being doled out and slowly but surely the boy’s behavior started changing.

One day, over dinner, my mother asked my grand mother how she had achieved this miracle. She said that in her initial conversations with the mother she didn’t talk about the boy’s behavior at all. It was all general family stuff..then she graduated to finding things to compliment the son. He was such a hard worker. He played football well. And so on. And then once in a while she would slide in a complaint. But, because my grand mother had already established the trust this ‘complaint’ was seen as positive feedback and accepted with credibility. And hence the mother did something about it.

Now, we managers in the corporate world do this continually as part of the feedback process to our teams. Compliment the good. Give feedback on the areas for improvement and set some sort of goals for review.

I give this long background because when I look at the media coverage of Trump it seems this basic fact needs to be reinforced. There is a set of media channels that can find absolutely nothing positive to say about Trump. This means Trump’s followers find it low on credibility and brand it unfair. So all the Trump bashing has no effect on the people who voted for Trump and the polarizing continues and hardens.

Now turn to Fox News for a minute. No matter how much one may find it distasteful, or coloured in its opinions, you are very likely to find at least 1-2 articles critical of Trump. So a Trump supporter reads, say, 100 articles praising Trump and a few critical. She/he sees Fox as a credible source of news thereby raising its stickiness with that base.

If the rest of the media really wants to reach out to Trump’s America it needs to first start building bridges, like my grandmother did with that boy’s mother, and then slowly build the platform for change. Else they are just talking in their own echo chamber.

Rather than only complain about Trump’s Syria strike, for example, talk about the need to be firm and definitely punish people for using chemical weapons.

Rather than only comment about Bannon’s demotion talk about how Trump is restoring the NSC to its original intended mission.

And so on.

Slowly, and very slowly, influential news media like NYT, CNN will start being seen as credible by Trump and his millions of followers. Then, when criticism follows, more people will take it seriously.

Changing any behavior needs to first find common ground.

It is not enough to be ‘true’. It is also important to be seen as ‘fair’.

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