Google recently introduced the “Bacon Number” function – a charming little game where you can find out exactly how many degrees of separation there are between some of Hollywood’s elite and Kevin Bacon – who has apparently been around the LA block a time or two. Working in PR can feel a bit like one giant separation exercise, except we tend to be more concerned with the “Mossberg Number”.
Sample Interview Process:
Interviewer: “So EXACTLY how well do you know Walt?”
Interviewee: “Well my mother used to know his youngest sister in college and I’m pretty sure she can get his number…”
All joking aside, there tends to be a very small degree of separation between those in the PR industry and their cohorts. This leads to a lot of name-dropping, the occasional embarrassing holiday party story, and more frequently, a lot of chatter behind the backs of those around us. Working in a predominantly female industry accelerates this process – after all, we are in the business of communication. Heck – gossip is nearly the name of the game. It’s also no secret that the once-assured right to privacy is a thing of the past. It only takes one cell phone camera, email or ill-advised text message to ruin even the brightest of careers (political or otherwise – look at the most recent ‘Mitt slip’).
This brings me to the point of this post – when the heck did we get so scared to confront each other? It’s hard to hit a bullseye when you’re trying to weave an arrow around multiple other targets. What I mean is that most conflicts can be resolved by going directly to the source, given there are two reasonably mature, intelligent people at the center. Let’s be honest - being a straight shooter is a hard quality to find in people these days and one that’s often undervalued. It’s much easier to be the “run and bitch to the boss” person or the “undercover gossip” or even the dreaded “I’m going to act like everything is fine even though it’s not” person. It’s more convenient to chat with coworkers via Skype or shoot funny emails than to actually directly communicate our frustrations with another person. Conflicts are uncomfortable; they’re messy and feelings could get hurt and you might actually have to make eye contact.
The constant connectedness created by social media (and about a million other technological advances) has resulted in a very distinct bifurcation of communication. It’s a rare day when I make a decision, address a conflict or even send an email without discussing it with someone else first. Our generation is hinged on a nearly crippling need for approval and validation from those around us. We seek peer support when resolving conflict – whether it’s between coworkers or client facing. While bouncing an idea off another person or gaining some outside perspective is hardly grounds for an entire blog post, the need to rally the village around a cause is an epidemic that only seems to be spreading. I challenge everyone to try this ‘new’ ‘revolutionary’ and ‘innovative’ way to solve a problem the next time you find yourself in a bit of a clash:
Step 1: Find offending person
Step 2: Remove offending person from public situation (may be optional)
Step 3: Discuss
It may not always result in the resolution of all issues, but at least you’ve taken the teeniest, tiniest step toward common ground. Or maybe you didn’t. Maybe the offender flipped shit and poured a cup of coffee in your lap – congrats! Now you have an excellent story to tell over Skype that is guaranteed to amuse your coworkers during the 2pm lull. In any case, it’s never a bad thing to be the person who went out on a limb. After all, I hear that’s where you find all the best apples.