As a behavioral psychologist, I have observed for more than 35-years how economic and social conditions impact human behavior especially in government and public meetings where members of the community think and feel they can express their outrage and emotions — after all as one state government employee “we are paid to be the whipping boys!” How ludicrious can you get? No employee in the government or private sector is “paid” to be abused by anyone.
Yet sadly, I predict that as environmental communicators, professional managers and technicians we are faced over the next decade with growing tendencies for the public to be more aggressive and difficult to work with as we go about the process of remediation of environmental sites even when such remediation is in the public’s best interest.
As economic and social conditions worsen members of the public grow weary with the dalliances of government bailouts and the expediency of politicians to grow their own security and feather their own nests at the loss of their security and economic well-being.
Taxpayers see their money being spent (you can substitute wasted) in ways they not only disagree with but often times can’t fathom and start to feel hopeless, depressed, angry and just down right mad. These emotions are easily transferred to presenters in public meetings and the aggressors in the public don’t care if the presenter is from the government or private sector.
As such governmental actions are taken at the federal, state and local levels the taxpayers become more resentful and behaviors toward those personnel associated with government agencies be they employees or contractors become more verbally and nonverbally aggressive.
An anti-government sentiment is growing exponentially in our country as each day passes and as communicators and practitioners we must become prepared to deal with this aggression. Our failure to understand and be prepared can place us in danger in the aggression erupting into violence. We must learn the strategies and techniques necessary to de-escalate aggression, which will in turn prevent conflict and violence.
Too often we choose to simply react to aggressors and when we choose to be reactive ultimately we will face the consequences be that severe verbal abuse, public humiliation and possibly even physical violence. We must be willing to step up and prevent the development of aggression, anger and outrage. Instead of fearing conflict, we must learn to prevent it and then deal with it if it does occur.
You can learn to deal with these types of situations by attending my presentation at the Bluegrass Chapter of the Public Relations SOciety of America, June 16 in Louisville, Ky. Learn more at: http://www.bluegrassprsa.org