Wednesday April 29, 2009

Composing Effective Communications in Response to LifeSiteNews Reports

Commentary by Steve Jalsevac

LifeSiteNews reports often end with contact information given for those who may wish to communicate with key persons or organizations about the particular reports. Such communications, when properly composed, often have a surprisingly strong positive impact.

On the other hand, poorly thought out, angry emails, letters and calls can, and do, have significant negative impact – much more than most realize.

Do’s and Don’t For Emails, Letters and Calls:

1. Facts, calmly presented, can have the greatest impact in convincing persons in influential positions to change their views or actions. That is, above all emphasize facts, not emotions.

2. Respectful communications open up the door to consideration of your points. If you really do want to convince your listener of your views, or to have them at least think about them, you must communicate as you would want them to communicate with you – with respect – no matter how serious your disagreement might be.

3. Being respectful does not require softening or compromising your principles. It also does not require abandoning boldness or advocating a right course of action. Be insistent, be bold, if the circumstances call for this, but never demean, attack or demand. If you have recently done so, send a letter or email of genuine apology. That will give you, and especially your views, renewed credibility with the recipient of your previous harsh communications.

4. Do not assume that the person you are communicating with fully understands or knows the facts about the matter concerned. Very often he or she is relying upon well known and trusted advisors who have presented a convincing alternative case. As well, your recipient’s personal experiences may consistently contradict what you are revealing and so it may genuinely be difficult for them to accept your assertions at first. It is often a serious mistake to send an email or letter assuming that the person is acting in bad faith and/or knows what you know.

5. Do not use capitalized words, phrases or sentences, colored text and exclamation marks in your communications. It conveys shouting, which it is presumed is exactly what you want to communicate. It is a very ineffective way to attempt to convince someone to do what they should. In fact, it is far more likely to close minds, entrench a negative view of all persons who hold the position you are trying to convey and end up in the trash without having been read.

6. Never respond in kind to harsh responses from those you communicate with. You do not know the circumstances that might have led to that kind of response. Patience, humility, time and continued respectful communication may yet produce a positive result.

7. Try to place yourself in the shoes of the person you are communicating with as you compose your email or letter. Most of the public has no comprehension of the heavy influences, difficulties and stresses experienced by elected public officials, religious leaders and others in leadership positions.

Writing to Bishops, Cardinals, Other clergy

8. All the above points apply

9. Do not tell a bishop what to do. Present facts, appeal to the bishop to exercise his authority on the matter at hand – but do not tell him that he must do so and so.

10. Do not attempt to give the impression that you are in any way equal in authority to a consecrated bishop. On the other hand, communicate naturally without using words and phrases that are overly pious or fawning to religious authority. It is usually not appreciated. A bishop is a normal human being and usually likes to be talked to as such.

11. With Church authorities, it is always crucial to communicate respectfully, charitably and in as few paragraphs as possible. That is the kind of communications that is the most likely to produce a positive response from these individuals who live in a culture that strongly requires such communications. Bishops are usually overwhelmed with correspondence and their daily duties. They have little time to read detailed, lengthy emails and letters. When more detail is required they will let you know.

12. Where there is clearly a serious problem regarding a bishop’s behaviour or decision making and the bishop has become intransigent, it is best to communicate your factual concerns to relevant Vatican authorities. There is nothing to be gained from unproductive and likely disturbing communications with the bishop concerned. Do not expect a response from the Vatican authority. They, too, are overwhelmed. Letters are, however, read.

Archbishop Chaput Talks About Correspondence he Receives

Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, in a lengthy Pew Forum interview published March 17, 2009, responded to a question about vitriolic correspondence from Catholics. His frank answer gave an inside view from the mind of a bishop about receiving such correspondence. Here is most of Archishop Chaput’s response to that question which is related to this article:

CHAPUT: I think the internet has made it much worse. I used to get some hate mail before I was online, but not nearly as much as I did afterwards. I think the way that we have immediate access, which means we immediately speak out of our emotions rather than write a letter, send it the next day, you might change your mind. Instead you write it and you push the button to “show them,” you know, that kind of thing.

So I think our immediate ability to communicate has led to a coarsening discourse for one thing. I gave a talk recently – I think it may have been when I was in Toronto, where I said that the Lord reminds us that we are sheep among wolves, but it’s important for us not to become wolves ourselves because of our experience, and I think that often happens.

Some of the worst emails I get are from Catholic conservatives who think I should excommunicate and refuse communion to Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. of Colorado and to former-Sen. [and now Secretary of the Interior] Ken Salazar of Colorado, and why aren’t you doing this? I mean, just awful kind of stuff that they write. Sometimes, I must admit, that when I write back, I’m not as friendly as I should be. But I try not to be mean.

CROMARTIE: You’re straightforward.

CHAPUT: I try to be – well, sometimes I might be mean, I don’t – (laughter) – because I’m just mad because I’m writing it too soon after I get it, perhaps. But I think it’s important for me as a bishop, but also for anyone who believes that he is a Christian, to try to always speak those words clearly but with love and not to be wolves ourselves.

ZAPOR: Just a follow-up. Where is the responsibility? Who can tone it down? Who can help tone it down?

CHAPUT: Nobody can tone down this group. I don’t know who can tone down the left because they usually just – it’s really interesting, the left mail I get will use terrible words but be less vitriolic. They use the F-word and things like that, call me names like that. But the right is meaner, but they’re not as foul.


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