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Thursday, January 18, 2018

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Fighting Dirty: Prepare for the Inevitable
Karen Eber Davis

August, 2015

(Or What the Confederate Flag Controversy Can Teach You About Being Attacked)   








What accusations have they made about you? If you haven't been accused of anything nasty yet, don't worry, you will be--it comes with the job.


Your mission can change the world. Your job is to create this change. Most changes will make someone uncomfortable. Some people don't like any change. Some win if your mission fails. Others want you to take a different tact. Still others will think you're going too fast or too slow. When they don't want a change, people push back. Expect and embrace push back as progress. This article is not about normal push back. It's about fighting dirty push back.


The three insults that opened this article were from the online comments section on a Washington Post article about the removal of the Confederate flag. Dirty fighters love to call names. They accuse you of terrible faults designed to sever your main artery and shock your mother. They call you a fraud, crook, and a detriment to your cause. When dirty fighters were children, hurling insults got them their way on the playground. The dirty fighter still seeks the same success.


Some dirty fighters specialize in drama. Just like a child who has temper tantrums in public places, these individuals design campaigns that use names and create uproar to get their way. They may or many not personally share their concerns with you. But they do copy everyone-your board, your community foundations, and your donors. They copy, for crying out loud, the Nigerian swindlers who've been reaching out to them.


Name-calling campaigns hurt-personally and professionally. Left surgically intact, they create emotional hi-jacks. They distract you and everyone from your mission. If you're not careful, they move you into time-sucking defensive positions fighting nebulous and unsubstantiated claims. Your job at worse is to keep them from damaging your mission. At best, you'll help the dirty fighters to grow up.  


Every nonprofit needs a plan to deal with dirty fighting. Dirty fights happen everywhere, but the passions of the nonprofit world make our organizations especially vulnerable.


The Plan: Divide and Conquer

To fight dirty fighting, recognize and help others to notice its infrastructure. To do so, divide the accusations into two categories: hazardous waste and facts.


Anything that cannot be proven is hazardous waste. Use your pen and boldly cross out every smidgen of this emotional psychobabble. Remove, for example, this Post comment: "The proper confederate flag is the white flag of surrender," and other name-calling.


Discard the cuts into your hazardous waste receptacle. Incinerate.


What's left? Sometimes a few facts. Resist the temptation to delete these. As an ingenious leader, you seek brilliance in every corner. Inspect any remainders for wisdom. What new ideas or perspectives are here? For example, one Post comment stated, "I celebrate my heritage with books of classical paintings or poems, and I have no impulse to fly the Five Star Red Flag." Among the facts, do you see the insight? Flying a flag represents just one way to celebrate heritage.


Decide how to respond. You might provide corresponding facts. Or, you might explore new ways to reach your mission with everyone who has been contacted. You might just remember the new facts as you move forward.


Because these attacks never just happen to you, protect your nonprofit by helping others to perform this important surgery. Can you prepare your board for the inevitable dirty fight? How about a fact-finding analysis on some other nonprofit's headline news?


To deal with dirty fighting, eliminate the insults and the nebulous. Seek facts and respond. Change dirty fights into good clean ones, the kind you and your organization win. 


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