By Chuck Lauer
There is no way around the fact that social media like Facebook, Linkedln and other vehicles carry a lot of clout.
Take the case of the TV reporter on WUSA, a CBS outlet in Washington, D.C., who has been running a series of reports about suburban underage drinking.
Recently a story broke about what this reporter, Andrea McCarren, has had to endure as a result of running the series on underage teen drinking. I have watched a couple of her TV reports and they are quite revealing, showing teenagers buying alcohol from a store where the owner doesn't even check ID. He simply lets the kids buy the beer and leave.
Now we all know teenage drinking has been going on for some time and I'm sure some of us at one time or another in our teen years have been guilty of underage drinking. It's just the way it is and has been for decades, but that doesn't make it right.
But now the story has developed into something more sinister with teenagers and others attacking McCarren and threatening her family through social media. It seems somebody even went public with her home address, along with other personal information. The threats became so great that McCarren took a leave of absence for one week from the TV station to make sure her home and family were safe and secure.
But there's more. McCarren has been startled by the attitude of the parents who are upset with her about exposing their children's underage drinking. They have threatened her with lawsuits and challenged her ancestry using language that has been anything but pristine.
McCarren admits that out of all the things that have shocked her, it is the parents’ attitude that shocks her most. She tells how some parents actually host parties for underage teenagers with alcohol present. It seems the parents feel that they would rather have the kids drink in their own home than drink in some bar and then drive home.
This story appeared in a newsletter published by Lovell Communications based out of Nashville, TN, a prominent marketing and advertising agency. The article was written by Lovell vice-president Dana Coleman. Aside from telling the story of the TV reporter and what she has gone through by revealing the sordid story of underage drinking in suburban Boston, Coleman goes on to talk about the lack of civility in our society and even highlights some people who are trying to do something about it.
Coleman cites a recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life project on the emotional climate of social networking sites that reveals how widespread the online problem has become. Pew found that 88 percent of social media-using teens have witnessed meanness or cruelty on a social network site. And Coleman goes on to point out that among American adults surveyed, 85 percent said they, too, have seen mean or cruel behavior displayed by others online.
Coleman goes on to say there are grassroots civility efforts that have been launched in recent years to combat the erosion of civility. One is the Oshkosh, Wisconsin, civility project. It is a community-based campaign to urge people to observe nine principles of civility. These principles are: pay attention, listen, be inclusive, no gossiping, show respect, be agreeable, apologize, give constructive criticism, and take responsibility.
Ironically in another case, however, a civility project failed when its founder called it quits because only three of 585 political leaders agreed to sign the pledge requiring them to promise the following: one, I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior, and, two, I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them. Simple stuff really, but it seems the political landscape is so toxic these days, a lot of politicians don't even want to try and be civil.
Some of this reminds me of a story Mark McCormick wrote about in one of his books a few years ago. The book was a bestseller at the time with the title, What They Don’t Teach You at the Harvard Business School. Back in the ‘90s, McCormick was the head of IMG Marketing, headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, and was himself the top super-agent for star athletes from all sports, including Arnold Palmer, the great golfer, along with many others.
In his book, he recounted being in his office one day and hearing a lot of shouting out in the hallway. When he came out to investigate, he found two of his executive VPs throwing punches at each other because they had both misconstrued the content of e-mails they had sent to each other. His point at that time was to be careful how you word e-mails because in many cases, they are misunderstood and lead to major misunderstandings.
I have encountered people who have told me how much they dislike someone because of what they considered a rude and curt e-mail they had received from that person. I know others who have received a badly worded e-mail and had their feelings crushed. So just maybe all of us could do a better job of e-mailing if we take the time to put a little more thought into the e-mails we send.
Years ago I learned my lesson about behaving in an uncivil, professional manner when I called on a pharmaceutical account in New Jersey. I was young and full of energy and probably not as smart as I thought I was. But here's the story, I had been trying to see the person I called on that day for some time. It was difficult to get an appointment with him because he was always so busy.
I was representing The Journal of The American Medical Association and I really believed in the power of the publication to reach physicians, and consequently, wanted to sell the person I was calling on to place more advertising in JAMA. That was my goal, but I made a mistake that I will always remember. I started my presentation off by talking about a competitor and why that publication couldn't match the efficiency and reach of JAMA.
I talked about how bad the competitor's editorial product was and I criticized their circulation. Then, quite unexpectedly, the gentleman I was telling this to, raised his hand and said the following, "Mr. Lauer if I wanted to know more about the publication you are talking about, I would have called one of their reps to come and visit me. I allowed you into my office today because I thought you were going to tell me about your magazine and why you felt I should spend my advertising dollars more efficiently by advertising in your publication. I am going to ask you to leave, Mr. Lauer, because I have a very busy schedule. When you want to tell me about your magazine, I will be only too happy to have you visit me again. Good day, sir."
That was it! I was dumbfounded and felt like a complete fool but I learned a valuable lesson early in my career. The lesson? Not to sell negatively and to talk only about my product. In other words, demeaning another company and their products is not the best way to either represent yourself or your company. After many months, I did get another appointment with the gentleman I had basically insulted and, in the end, he would become one of my best customers.
Yes, there is a lot of negativity and uncivil behavior in the world today and with all the negative news we read and hear, it's hard to keep things in perspective. But, just maybe, taking the time to think things through and having a positive attitude on life, respecting others, and treating them with dignity goes a long way to offsetting those who look at life in a cynical, negative fashion.
It all starts with you and you alone. Life is short and precious, and if you want to go through life treating others badly, your chances of success and fulfillment are not very good. In my considered opinion, and from years of selling, I have learned that negativity and uncivil conduct says more about you than it does about your competitor.
It's a lesson, unfortunately, that some people never learn. Enthusiasm mixed with integrity and quality products is the formula for unbridled success for any organization or individual.