US President Donald Trump has a talent for sparking debate about important issues by creating controversies. His handling of the Hurricane Maria aftermath, for example, has attracted a great deal of criticism. Much of that criticism has centered on the government’s response, yet Mr. Trump has also been able to redirect attention onto those criticizing him instead of focusing on the unfolding humanitarian disaster in Puerto Rico. Some fault the Media and his political opponents while others blame him. The truth is that they all deserve some degree of criticism. As such, one major issue surrounding Trump’s response to natural disasters and other tragedies, such as the Las Vegas shooting, is the message the statements and actions of government officials deliver.
Public Relations, or PR, matters, because it indicates whether or not leadership is engaging in effective communication. It also determines how favorable people view leadership. In praising disaster relief crews, Trump is sending a powerful message of support. By pledging to deal with Puerto Rico’s debt issues, he is also providing support. When Trump praises his Administration’s handling of crises with rave reviews, he is refocusing attention onto himself and emphasizing valid criticism. More importantly, he is unwittingly minimizing the suffering of victims by telling them that their problems are not real. He is also suggesting that his Administration has no plans to address the inadequacies of their insufficient response.
As a businessman who has spent his entire career in the hospitality industry, Donald Trump should understand that “good enough” is never “good enough.” It is never acceptable to respond to criticism by proclaiming perfection. Nothing is good enough, especially in the face of criticism. Credit is, of course, due where credit is due, but one must always seek ways to improve.
If criticism is valid and actionable solutions are available, criticism helps make improvement possible. It is pivotal to always acknowledge and accept criticism. Doing so both shows people someone is listening and leaves open the possibility for improvement.
At times, criticism is just criticism, which is one reason people do not always act on criticism. It is also why leadership does not simply admit fault every time criticism is issued. Criticism is ever-present. How criticism is addressed matters more than anything. The proper response to criticism is, therefore, to neither accept nor deny fault. Fault, if there is any, is best assigned after careful consideration of criticism when attempting to solve the underlying issues. Assigning blame should never be a top priority, because it simply encourages people to avoid problems by blaming others. The top priority should always be solving the problem. Problem solving starts by identifying the problem, i.e. listening to criticism.
Leaders need to always focus their attention on improvement. By acknowledging and accepting criticism as part of the problem solving process, leaders can defuse tensions and send a constructive message. Donald Trump is right to praise aid workers, who are struggling with a tough job, but he also needs to tell those still in need of government services that his Administration is working to improve their response. The last thing he needs to do is personalize criticism by responding with self-promoting praise. That only invites criticism. This is an important lesson in PR, provided by Trump, for everyone in positions of leadership and responsibility.
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