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No. 65 – Preparing for News Media Interviews – 5

March 21, 2012

Showing That You Care

There are three general guidelines for credibility with reporters and the audience behind the news media.

  1. Show that you care.
  2. Demonstrate your competence.
  3. Frame your responses in partnership with the audience.

The first guideline is often difficult for health physicists who, like other technical professionals, may be viewed as cold, hard, analytical, and uncaring. And yet, most professionals in radiation safety would say that they care deeply about the welfare of people and that is why they chose the health physics profession.

How Can Professionals with Such Depth of Caring be Perceived as Exactly the Opposite?

Partly, we create this impression of not caring when we get caught up in efforts to explain the technical complexities of radiation issues and lose our audience. Since most professionals prefer a logical analytical approach to dealing with issues, their normal approach will seem uncaring to those who rely on feelings for making decisions.

Those who prefer feelings will not feel comfortable with analyses that seem to be based totally upon logic and do not appear to include the human dimension of issues. For example, the current controversy on release of contaminated metals for recycling is based on very low risks estimated by health physicists. Anti-nuclear activists, however, have picked up on the feeling concerns of the public for radioactive material in eating utensils and children’s braces. The activists are saying that we do not care about people.

The best way that we can show people that we care is to hear their feelings. From previous Communication Insight columns, we know this is an area of great difficulty for health physicists. Since the demands of our jobs are usually concerned with technical details, the facts and logic of issues is usually all that we see. For us, the feeling elements of an issue are intrusions that interfere with the logical orderly handling of problems. In fact, we often see emotions as the source of the problems, and therefore, to resolve issues, our approach is to avoid feelings as far as possible.

One consultant who advises people on how to conduct themselves in media interviews, counsels clients, “Don’t hear emotional words.” I recommend the opposite. A better approach is to hear and reflect the feelings. Journalism builds on conflicts in views, values, and feelings. Do not ignore emotionally charged questions. The audience will pick up on the reporter’s feelings and notice how you respond.

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