Tough crowds

Published on: 8/12/2011

Yesterday I had the pleasure of presenting a workshop to my co-workers. I’ve done similar workshops all around the country, from Boston to Seattle (and Toronto). But this was a little different. For one thing, the folks at national professional meetings all have to write abstracts as part of their bread-and-butter getting. My co-workers don’t: it’s a new area for many of them. People don’t always like something new coming down the job pike.

For another thing, when you’re a stranger in a strange land with a microphone and a lectern, people sort of assume you’re an expert. Among your neighbors, you’re just the one who has a weird habit of liking to write.

Things went pretty well, despite a tougher audience than I’ve had before.  I didn’t get booed, as Governor Walker did recently at the Wisconsin State Fair opening and a few other venues. He’s a lot tougher than I am, but it has to be disheartening when the people you are supposed to be leading get all huffy on you.

I don’t think much of booing and shouting people down. Unfortunately, civility doesn’t get press coverage. Even the hostile crowd incidents haven’t gotten local coverage except from bloggers.

The good thing about a tough crowd (provided you listen to them and ask the right questions) is they can remind you that you might have gotten off track. 

I think Walker was a better County Executive than Governor because he had to work against and with opposition, a recalcitrant County Board. His compromises were some of his finer moments. Maybe the crowds will have to do what the Board did. Shouting’s a crude tool that only leads to anger, defensiveness, and heel digging in, not change. Still  I can understand that sometimes, it feels like the only tool you have.

I wonder how politicians could do a better job of asking “how’m I doing?” and listening to the answers. One thing I’m pretty sure of: you get more useful information from those who don’t like you much than from your fans.