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Wednesday, 28 July 2010

BP and Obama – playing the demonisation game

Yes we can!
I shared the world’s excitement at Barack Obama’s accession to the position of “most powerful man in the world”. I like his firm but inclusive and tolerant tone. Whatever the difficulties and trials of his presidency, I feel that overall he will do much good and in due time there is a strong chance that history will judge him well. I really hope so.
Or can we?
Recently however, he has disappointed me by demonstrating that for the sake of populism, even the leading statesman of our time can sink to tactics of demonisation worthy of the redtop press.
When a person or organisation such as BP, or indeed an industry such as banking, is being tagged as “evil” by strident, aggressive accusers, look carefully behind the rhetoric for the real issue from which they are trying to divert your attention or for other underlying motives. Barack Obama’s hammering of BP and demonisation of Tony Hayward raises my suspicions.
What is the president really after?
I have a feeling that demonising hyperbole has a close correlation with the demoniser’s own insecurity, guilt or evading of personal responsibilities. While it may appeal to the rabble and buy a few short term votes or serve another devious smoke-screening purpose, in the long run it only undermines the credibility of the accuser. It seldom stands the test of rational appraisal. Barack, what are you up to?
BP and mistakes
BP made mistakes in the Gulf. Companies and people make mistakes every day. You make mistakes, I make mistakes, property developers, bankers, politicians and even presidents make mistakes, but to turn BP or any of us into public enemy number one is generally way off the mark in terms of fairness or truth. BP is no more or less evil than Exxon; banks, bankers and indeed property developers are no more or less evil than the general populace. Demonisation serves no worthy purpose.
Demonisation and you
In the cut and thrust of your business, by all means argue, by all means criticise where necessary - but never demonise your opponent. As an example, in these cash-strapped times many business owners are unable to raise finance and demonising the banks has been a frequent response. It won’t get you a loan and you are using your intellect and effort in a fruitless unprofitable rant that shows you up in a poor light.
Rational dialogue
Instead, whatever your negotiation, whether with a bank, supplier, customer or competitor, take a rational approach using the following pointers and explore the opportunities in a measured dialogue. Be the calming influence.
Of paramount importance, be aware of how your own past behaviour and circumstance may have contributed to the present state of things,
build confidence on a basis of respect. You are not the only righteous party
take a long view – you have to work with these people in the future,
recognise your counterpart’s own pressures and try to address their problems while solving yours,
focus on building a partner relationship to solve your problem
Confrontation or coalition
In his demonising response to the tragic oil spill in the Gulf, Barack Obama failed BP – and himself - on all these vital points and in due course it could cost him dearly. No matter how strong the temptation, don’t take the same futile demonising response to the business crises that may hit you in these volatile times. Stay rational.
And a word of hope
It is of course early days, but in Britain we are seeing coalition at work between political parties who not so long ago were demonising one another.
As with Barack Obama, whatever the difficulties and trials of their term, I feel that overall they will do much good and in due time there is a strong chance that history will judge them well. I really hope so.

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