The Importance Of The “Human” Answer

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 13, 2013 – 6:02 am

Imagine that you work for a small nonprofit organization dedicated to helping women who have been the victims of domestic abuse in your community.

As much as you’d like to help everyone affected by domestic abuse, your organization runs on a tight budget and has a specific mission to offer support services only to women and girls who live within the city limits. So when an abused 14-year-old boy who lives just blocks outside of your city’s borders approaches your group for help, you have to turn him away.

Naturally, you offer him a referral for other groups that may be able to help him. You may even offer to make calls on his behalf. But when the boy shares his grueling story to a reporter and claims you refused to help him, your organization is suddenly cast as the most unpopular group in town.

I’ve worked with many groups in a similar situation—and their instinct far too often is to offer an answer heavy on facts but light on humanity. In this situation, a typical spokesperson might say:

“Since the Sunshine Society is a women’s-only facility, we’re unfortunately unable to offer help to men. We offered to help this young man by connecting him with another group that works with men, and we are still willing to do everything we can to help him.”

But that statement is a bit cold and lacks the humanity many of us would hope for from an organization approached by an abused child. When I work with clients facing similar situations, I coach them to bring their humanity to the forefront and say something more like this:

“It breaks my heart that we’re not equipped to bring this young man into our facility. It’s moments like these that I wish we had a separate building in which we could house young men who need our services. But I have personally pledged to do everything I can to help him, and I sincerely hope he’ll take me up on that offer. To begin, I’d like the opportunity to personally accompany him to an appointment with a boy’s facility that has the capacity to give him the help he needs and deserves.”

The public tends to understand sensible policies—but they don’t forgive organizations that respond coolly to people in need. As an example of a cold response that lacked humanity, watch this interview featuring Nancy Brinker, the co-founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. (Click here if you need a refresher on the Komen crisis before watching.)

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

    Brad Phillips

    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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