Monday, July 24, 2006

Hell hath no fury like a blogger scorned

The main trick to negotiating with someone is to get as much information as you can about them, and their situation, their pressure points and their pleasure points. Armed with this knowledge you can push towards a satisfactory resolution for both parties.

If you think your negotiation will end in an unbalanced resolution, where the other party may not be entirely satisfied with their lot, you also need to consider your own pressure points once the negotiation is over, because an opponent with nothing to lose will see only up-side in attacking you - and suddenly the negotiation is not over.

If you have been paying any attention to the blogsphere, or the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Guardian, the Times or CNN in the last week you will know that Israel has invaded Lebanon and that Petite Anglaise was fired from her job for bringing disrepute on her employer. Petite's account indicates that her employer spent a weekend reading her blog. She says quite thoroughly, though I suspect he just clicked the "working girl" category to read the work posts - a great example of poor preparation, and an indirect cause of the subsequent media storm.

You see, if you read Petite thoroughly, looking at the profiles and blogs of those who post comments, you will discover that Petite is read widely by media types. She would be within six degrees of separation from almost every Newspaper editor in the English speaking world. Being her boss you would also have noticed that she is articulate in two languages, intelligent, very good looking, and a single mum. Having read her blog you would know that she writes beautifully, and sensitively, about her daughter - you are not firing Petite, you are firing Tadpole's mum - and has ambitions beyond the secretarial. Having seen the book covers in her right sidebar, you would know that she admires bloggers turned authors, and you could assume that she wants to join their ranks. And if you fire her, she will have a lot of time on her hands. She is, in short, a media darling in waiting, willing and able to step up to the plate.

And still he fired her. According to Petite's timeline he read the blog on the weekend and she was out by the end of the week. It looks to me like a hasty decision, made without considering all the angles. A more cunning person would have discussed the matter with Petite, given her a written warning, and requested that she not identify her workplace or use company facilities for blogging. A wise person would have given her the warning, then moved her into corporate communications. By firing Petite they have given her no option but to take her plight public. It is simply the path of least resistance - she has no job, nothing to lose by publishing, and 3000 readers per day who she habitually uses as confidants. What else would she do?

The employer's subsequent media management has been even more short-sighted. So far it has been media relations by "No comment" and not returning phone calls; giving Petite complete control over the story without, surprisingly, ever mentioning the name of the company. The company appears utterly discredited, either by its unfair treatment of a staff member, or the inadequacy of its HR policies in the face of such a challenge. (May large, conservative companies now require staff to sign a contract prohibiting them from blogging, or blogging about work). The company's cold, unsophisticated and reactionary media strategy - so favoured by the archly conservative end of British society - was utterly discredited by its disastrous impact on the British royal family's reputation following the death of Princess Diana. A more evolved organisation would have put its own side of the story, stating why it believes it behaved rationally and reasonably. And if it cannot come up with a plausible explanation, it should recognise that it is in an indefensible position and begin remediation before the media storm becomes a tornado.

Media relations aside; the most potentially damaging fallout for the employer will occur if it wins against Petite at the industrial relations tribunal. Because all Petite did was talk, abstractly, about work in a public forum, a victory would set the precedent that discussing work in a public forum not controlled by your workplace - regardless of whether you identify your employer - brings discredit on your employer.

This would prevent anybody from discussing their job at after work drinks with friends; it would prevent students from discussing their work during continuing education - as is required to become a chartered accountant; and it would ultimately mean that the man who fired Petite should lose his own job for his presentation at the meeting of the International Tax Planning Association in Lausanne last month, or at least for any comments he made about work between sessions.

[Petite and her erstwhile employer have been invited to comment.]