This may arrive late to the game, for the response of WKBT-TV anchor Jennifer Livingston is one of the most effective rebuttals in the face of a personal crisis anyone will witness and it’s receiving proper kudos and social media boosts all over the Internet.
But as a crisis manager, please watch the La Crosse, WI video first and take it all in. Then together, let’s dissect its power to diffuse a crisis; in this case a personal one.
We teach that 90 percent of successful communication is non-verbal. Livingston speaks calmly, but with passion; she engages the viewer’s eye — perhaps something a professional television anchor should do without thinking, but she succeeds at it — no easy task under personal stress; she pushes to the edge of emotion without either choking up or venturing into the maudlin; she stops short of over-doing it. And she speaks clearly, zinging facts and fair conclusions as fast as she can slot each one from quiver to bow.
Bullseye after bullseye.
There’s no wonder that her response to a bullying email about her weight is this week’s Internet sensation. She speaks for overweight people with a dignity and “facts first” approach that’s inspiring at the least. We never feel sorry for her, because she never seeks pity.
Livingston faced a personal crisis, one that threatened, conceivably, to undermine her professional situation. What if the email triggered station management [not to over generalize, but folks known as highly over-reactive] to demand she go on on some diet during a ratings month? What if her bosses took one email as reflective of a broader dissatisfaction with her appearance and leaped across the logic chasm to conclude more people [ratings points] might not want to watch her unless she loses weight. It’s TV, after all, and she put her challenges in a professional context and described the pain and worry the email caused her.
But congratulations to her, to those same station managers who backed her, to her family [including her fellow anchor husband who stuck up for her first on Facebook] and all the people supporting her. I hope her smack down of the emailer has the same effect on him as standing hip-deep in an icy ocean.
She was real. She admitted with graceful acceptance that there was a lot of her. She joked about her thick skin, literally and figuratively. You just wanted to high-five her.
And she said it best, delivering a punchline message that stuck: We need to teach our children kindness, not criticism. If you sit home at night ridiculing the “fat anchor,” on TV, what are your kids going to do in school tomorrow? In domestic violence circles [more on that later] it’s called “breaking the cycle.”
Livingston marshalled her facts. This is bullying, she said. It’s unacceptable and it’s epidemic, especially in schools. She turned the tables 180 degrees and used her personal crisis as a show ‘n tell for righteous indignation and teachable moments.
In terms of crisis management, she came prepared. While she held a sheet of paper, she did not refer to it. It was a prop, maybe a support mechanism. Maybe she read her comments from a teleprompter — and if she did, that’s fine — but if she did she disguised it expertly. I’d prefer to think she spoke from the heart and delivered her key messages in forceful tones, cadence and impact without reading them.
I had the honor to be in a local audience Saturday where the brother of a woman murdered in Buffalo this summer by her ex-boyfriend spoke about domestic violence. For what is bullying other than a first step toward domestic violence? He spoke with courage and conviction.
He and his family suffered a far more dramatic loss than an injurious email could inflict, though they are merely different ticks on the same ugly scale. But David Wisniewski and Jennifer Livingston fight the same fight.
Civility is not something to laugh at, and kindness is not weakness. As Jennifer Livingston demonstrated it’s courageous, especially in the face of a crisis.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.