The Urge to Act, Unintended Consequences & Impeachment  


Simon Erskine Locke, CEO, CommunicationsMatch

The push for the impeachment of President Trump playing out this week in Washington has parallels with a classic communications dilemma. 

How do you respond when your business or client is perceived to have been attacked?  

While it goes without saying that negative media coverage or rants on social media do not rise to the level of what we saw on Capitol Hill last week, there are takeaways that can help frame our thinking about our day jobs.

The Urge to Act

Our first reflexive “fight-or-flight” response to an attack is driven by deep-seated behavioral impulses – our emotions. 

The initial urge to act is not a response based on reasoning. We are propelled to do something and to do it now. Thinking through the consequences of our actions is generally a secondary priority. 

There’s good reason why we need to take a breath, resist the urge to do something immediately, and let cooler heads prevail. Before doing, we need to stop and think, to allow our higher reasoning functions to kick in and dispassionately evaluate options and all potential outcomes.     

Unintended Consequences

Raw from the bloody events of last week, the process of impeaching President Trump is moving forward, accompanied by righteous calls for his resignation and the implementation of the 25th amendment.   

But, without broad bipartisan agreement, the consequences of a passionate, partisan battle to remove Trump will ensure that he remains the focus of attention, at a time when the spotlight should be on the new administration, the pandemic, and the economy. It risks being a lightning rod that keeps Trump’s more rabid supporters and enablers energized, and dangerous. 

The challenge for leaders in the few remaining days until the Biden inauguration is to balance the desire to remove Trump and prevent him from running in the future, against the potential consequences of rallying his supporters toward further violence and boosting his relevance in ways that will shape the next four years. 

As communicators we must make less dramatic, but similar calculations.                  

Taking Away the Oxygen 

A former CCO I worked with was a master of the art of stepping back and making the decision not to engage, when engagement would be counterproductive.   

Fanning flames leads to a bigger fire. Taking away the oxygen is the key to putting it out.

Twitter, Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon have all taken steps to restrict the flow of Trump’s now blood-stained stream of falsehoods.   

Let’s add to this, that over the last four years, journalists had no choice but to cover Trump. From January 20 they do. 

Freedom of speech is a sacred right. Amplifying it is not.  

Casting those who seek the spotlight into the wilderness of irrelevance by turning our backs and ignoring them is as valid an option for communicators, as it is an approach to moving beyond the Trump presidency.

Seeing the Wood from the Trees  

This does not mean that we should see no evil or hear no evil, or that in Washington that the wheels of justice should not continue to turn. We must be vigilant, find ways to engage all those who found the actions of the mob abhorrent, and hold Trump accountable.     

When decisions are clouded by emotion, framed by political, ideological or cultural context, our ability to see the woods from the trees is limited, yet this is what we must be able to do if we are to move forward, not backwards.  

We need to ensure that the decisions we make, and strategies we implement, are clear-headed to ensure that the fires we fight do not reignite. 

This is critical. Wood that has been left to smolder, becomes charcoal. It burns hotter the second time around.      

About the Author: Simon Erskine Locke is CEO of communications agency and professional search and services platform, CommunicationsMatch™. His is a regular contributor to and vice president of the Foreign Press Association.