Amy Newman is a senior lecturer of management communication at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, School of Hotel Administration. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in business writing, persuasive speaking, and corporate communication. Amy is author of Business Communication: In Person, In Print, Online, 10e and Building Leadership Character: Lessons from Communication Failures. Prior to joining Cornell, Amy taught at Ithaca College, eCornell, and Milano. She also has 20 years of corporate and external consulting experience for Reuters, Canon, Scholastic, and other companies.
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NPR's head of the news division was forced to resign after two women accused him of sexual harassment. Michael Oreskes admitted his failings in a statement:
“I am deeply sorry to the people I hurt. My behavior was wrong and inexcusable, and I accept full responsibility.”
Soon after, NPR's chief executive, Jarl Mohn, announced a medical leave:
“As many of you know, last March, I suffered a nearly fatal ruptured aorta. I returned to work with the blessing of my physician with one important caveat — I cannot allow my blood pressure to rise. Regretfully, the hypertension has returned to a dangerous level.”
Mohn said he noticed other issues with Oreskes, for example, inappropriate expense reporting, and took some responsibility for the impact of Oreskes' behavior:
“In retrospect, I did not see the bigger pattern of poor judgment and unacceptable behavior. I am sorry, and I have learned from this.”
The news hit the industry hard, partly because we rely on reporters' integrity, particularly when allegations of "fake news" are common on both sides of the political aisle.
For what some call censorship and others call a glorious 11 minutes, President Trump's Twitter account was down. The company took some time to figure out what happened, and the results were startling.
At first, Twitter referred to the problem as "inadvertent" as "human error," but further investigation revealed that a customer service employee did the deed on his or her last day of employment. A third tweet announced new "safeguards":
Update: We have implemented safeguards to prevent this from happening again. We won’t be able to share all details about our internal investigation or updates to our security measures, but we take this seriously and our teams are on it.
The incident does not reflect well on Twitter, currently questioned, along with other social sites, about its role in fake news that may have affected the 2016 election.
Not so shocking, more people are coming forward to complain about Kevin Spacey's sexual behavior. Crew members of "House of Cards" say he created a "toxic" work environment, particularly for young men. A production assistant accused him of assault, and seven others tell stories of aggressive touching, inappropriate comments, and other harassing behavior.
Spacey is experiencing more fallout from the news. In addition to Netflix's stopping production and the Emmy's cancelling a special award, Netflix announced it will not allow Spacey back on set. The company issued this statement:
"Netflix was just made aware of one incident, five years ago, that we were informed was resolved swiftly. On Tuesday, in collaboration with MRC, we suspended production, knowing that Kevin Spacey wasn't scheduled to work until Wednesday. Netflix is not aware of any other incidents involving Kevin Spacey on-set. We continue to collaborate with MRC and other production partners to maintain a safe and respectful working environment. We will continue to work with MRC during this hiatus time to evaluate our path forward as it relates to the production, and have nothing further to share at this time."
His publicist and talent agency also ended their relationship.
We can talk about the opioid crisis and try to persuade people in many ways: by telling stories, showing pictures, or presenting data. The number of deaths from all drug overdoses in 2016 is 64,070, but without more context or comparisons, it's hard to know what this number means. Is it a lot?
One important data point for context is the U.S. population, which is about 324 million. Still, does this convince you this is a "crisis," as the media calls it?
One convincing approach is to compare the number of deaths. When we compare the figure to deaths from car accidents, AIDS, and the Vietnam War, we see that, indeed, the deaths from drug overdoses are significant—at least compared to other death tolls we consider significant.
Here's an example of a simple bar chart to represent these numbers visually.
Image source (pills).
Should CEOs get involved in political controversies? While some applaud "brand activism," others criticize business leaders who don't agree with their views.
Papa John's CEO has been vocal about the business impact of NFL players not standing during the national anthem. When explaining same-store sales, John Schnatter blamed NFL leadership:
"We are totally disappointed that the NFL and its leadership did not resolve the ongoing situation to the satisfaction of all parties long ago. This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago."
Schnatter also said, "Leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership." Schnatter contributed $1,000 to President Trump's election campaign and is aligned with the president's views on the subject. He blamed the "polarizing" actions of team members for causing declining viewership and fewer pizza orders.
But others say NFL viewership was declining long before this political controversy, and Pizza Hut jumped into the conversation. Greg Creed, CEO of Yum! Brands, Pizza Hut's parent company, said the NFL hasn't affected its sales at all.
Daniel Roberts tweeted stock comparisons on Yahoo to show that Papa John's (in red) has been declining for some time. Yum Brands is in blue. But we should be careful about comparing "apples and oranges" here.
The owner of the Houston Texans has apologized for a comment he made when describing protests around players kneeling during the national anthem. For weeks, the NFL has struggled with its response, and now the situation is exacerbated by inflammatory comments. Owner Bob Nair said, "We can’t have the inmates running the prison," as he expressed concern about the league's revenues.
Players were offended by the comment and, according to an ESPN report, considered a walkout. One player, Andre Hopkins, skipped practice. A Mashable writer explains sensitivities around the comment:
This, of course, is not a very sensitive thing to say given the context of the protests: started by Colin Kaepernick as a means of protesting the police-involved killings of unarmed black men, continued by a group of mostly black players, facing criticism and pressure from a group of mostly white owners concerned about their bottom line.
Nair did apologize in a statement:
"I regret that I used that expression. I never meant to offend anyone, and I was not referring to our players. I used a figure of speech that was never intended to be taken literally. I would never characterize our players or our league that way, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by it."
Actor Anthony Rapp has accused fellow actor Kevin Spacey of sexual assault when Rapp was 14 years old. Rapp is known for his roles in Rent, Star Trek: Discovery, and A Beautiful Mind, while Spacey has a long history of movie credits and is currently co-starring in House of Cards.
Spacey responded to the allegations with an apology statement, and he took the opportunity to come out as a gay man. He is facing harsh criticism for deflecting attention away from the situation and for possibly linking being gap to pedophilia, an unfounded but common association.
Susan McCarthy, who manages SorryWatch, created "Bad Apology Bingo" and "Bad Apology Bingo Two" as lessons for what not to include in an apology statement.
In addition to the public backlash, Netflix has announced that House of Cards, currently filming its sixth season, will not film a seventh. Also, Spacey will not receive the special Emmy award that was planned for new month.
When a prospective customer decides not to pursue a contract, what's the best reaction? Certainly not how Sweetery responded, with a long, insulting email. Amanda De Pascale says she was considering offering the company's food truck to her wedding guests as a fun addition, but the $2500 quote was more than she wanted to spend. After she told the company her decision, she said she received multiple phone calls from them and then this email. She posted screenshots on her Facebook page.
You may want to skip some parts.
We have zero idea what type of warped sick games you are playing with us, but now it is time for us to have a say.
You are a despicable bottom feeding wretched disgrace of a person, who is as disgusting as they come.
How many times have we called you to follow up on the proposal that we expanded time and effort to produce based on your request and each and every time you cowardly hang up the phone on us when we identify who is calling, what an absolute low life twisted miserable individual you have to be [sic].
We also send you multiple emails that you don't have the decency to respond to, who do you think you are, because we are here to tell you that you are a weak, meager [sic] spineless empty sack low life piece of trash.
We work very hard to do right by client [sic] both existing and perspective and although rarely do we come across a pile of dog ____ like you, it is cowards like you that are not worth the gas that we pass. If you were not interested in our services that [sic] open your mousy measly trap and say so, but no not you, you would prefer to hang up on us countless time [sic] pretending that you cannot hear us to which we would normally say get a new phone but it is clear that you should get a life.
You are despicable and that is probably on your best day, on your worst day you are a complete waste of humanity, I know dogs when they lift their legs that have better manners than you do.
What kind of trash would ask a company to do work for them and then not have the decency and respect, or the respect for their own self, not to at the very least say. . . .
At right is a screenshot of the last part of his message.
At first, Sweetery's owner, whose name is listed on the bottom of the screenshots, Grant DiMille, told Fox News: "Yes, it came from a company computer, but it was not sent by myself or any member of management. It's a terrible offense, yes, but everyone makes mistakes."
Later, DiMille said he fired the employee who wrote the message, and he sent an apology to De Pascale: "It does deeply matter to us that you were offended by what was written to you. I know it will be difficult for you to believe this but our company's culture is not like what your experience has been, yet the experience that you encountered did happen."
A comment posted on The New York Times website turned out to be gibberish. The replies were almost as funny as the post. People referred to political parties and Waiting for Godot. One reader understood what happened: a voice-to-text program interrupted the writer.
In response, Christine explained that someone came to her door in the middle of her writing the post. She didn't turn off the program, so whatever she said got translated and posted for all to read. As she describes,
“I was composing a message using the autospeak, and a friend arrived early to my house,” she wrote in a reply further down the thread. “I had no idea all that drivel was being recorded — there are even errors in the drivel! And then to be a pick, with about 15 emails announcing such, meant that my email went rogue.”
The NAACP issued warnings to African-American passengers flying on American Airlines. In a news release, the organization described four "troublesome issues." One is described below:
"An African-American man was required to relinquish his purchased seats aboard a flight from Washington, D.C. to Raleigh-Durham, merely because he responded to disrespectful and discriminatory comments directed toward him by two unruly white passengers."
The release explains the impetus for the warning:
"The NAACP for several months now has been monitoring a pattern of disturbing incidents reported by African-American passengers, specific to American Airlines. In light of these confrontations, we have today taken the action of issuing national advisory alerting travelers—especially African Americans—to exercise caution, in that booking and boarding flights on American Airlines could subject them disrespectful, discriminatory or unsafe conditions."
American Airlines didn't respond about the specific incidents but invited the NAACP to meet with headquarters staff. A spokesperson also said, "We do not and we will not tolerate discrimination of any kind. We have reached out to the NAACP and are eager to meet with them to listen to their issues and concerns."
The media has covered a phone call between President Trump and Myeshia Johnson, whose husband, La David, was a soldier killed in Niger. In an interview on Good Morning America with George Stephanopoulos, Johnson describes what the president said on speakerphone in her car:
“The president said that he knew what he signed up for, but it hurts anyways. It made me cry because I was very angry at the tone of his voice and how he said it. He couldn’t remember my husband’s name… I heard him stumbling on trying to remember my husband’s name, and that’s what hurt me the most.”
President Trump replied to the controversy in a tweet:
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who lost a son in Afghanistan, said the president had asked him, "What do I say?" when he was preparing to call four families. Kelly defended the president:
"In his way, [he] tried to express that opinion -- that (Johnson) is a brave man, a fallen hero. He knew what he was getting himself into because he enlisted. There's no reason to enlist, he enlisted. And he was where he wanted to be with exactly the people he wanted to be with when his life was taken. That was the message. That was the message that was transmitted."
Offering sympathy, as we discuss in Chapter 6 of the book, is never easy. Perhaps President Trump could have shown some vulnerability—a natural hesitation or discomfort in offering compassion.
As a sign of the times, WeWork has purchased Lord & Taylor's flagship store in New York City. WeWork leases office space to small companies and will rent some space back from the retailer, which will continue to operate out of most floors.
Although the news is good for WeWork, I can't find a press statement, blog post, or tweet from the company. On Twitter, they did retweet the New York Times article, but I'm not sure why they don't announce the news themselves.
WeWork co-founder and CEO Adam Neumann was quoted in the New York Times article:
“Retail is changing, and the role that real estate has to play in the way that we shop today must change with it,” Mr. Neumann said in a statement. “The opportunity to develop this partnership with H.B.C. to explore this trend was too good to pass up.”
I'll post again when/if I see an update from the company.
An investigation found 25 employees of Besh Restaurant Group claiming sexual harassment. BRG owns 14 restaurants, including Restaurant August in New Orleans and Johnny Sanchez in New Orleans and Baltimore.
The women describe a hostile working environment where "vulgar and offensive comments, aggressive unwelcomed touching, and sexual advances were condoned and sometimes even encouraged by managers and supervisors." Some charges were against John Besh, co-owner of the group.
When faced with the first complaint, Besh said it was "a consensual relationship with one member of my team." But additional women came forward, and it became more difficult for Besh to isolate the incident. BRG announced Besh's decision to resign. In an email to employees, CEO Shannon wrote, "John has decided to step down from all aspects of operations and to provide his full focus on his family."
Besh and BRG issued statements in response to the claims.
John Besh's statement:
"Two years ago, I deeply hurt those I love by thoughtlessly engaging in a consensual relationship with one member of my team. Since then I have been seeking to rebuild my marriage and come to terms with my reckless actions given the profound love I have for my wife, my boys and my Catholic faith. I also regret any harm this may have caused to my second family at the restaurant group, and sincerely apologize to anyone past and present who has worked for me who found my behavior as unacceptable as I do.
"I alone am entirely responsible for my moral failings. This is not the way the head of a company like ours should have acted, let alone a husband and father. But it should not taint our incredible team of more than 1,000 employees, nor undermine our unyielding commitment to treating everyone with respect and dignity, regardless of gender, race, age and sexual preference."
Statement from Raymond Landry, Besh Restaurant Group's general counsel:
"We have learned recently that a number of women in our company feel that we have not had a clear mechanism in place to allow them to voice concerns about receiving the respect they deserve on the job. I want to assure all of our employees that if even a single person feels this way, it is one person too many and that ends now.
"While we've had a complaint procedure in place that complies with all existing laws, we now recognize that, as a practical matter, we needed to do more than what the law requires and we have revamped our training, education and procedures accordingly. Now that we have learned of these concerns, we believe going forward that everyone at our company will be fully aware of the clear procedures that are now in place to safeguard against anyone feeling that his or her concerns will not be heard and addressed free from retaliation."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell seems to be conflicted about how to handle the issue of players kneeling during the national anthem. A PR Daily writer summarizes the results of a recent news conference:
His aim was to stem backlash over players kneeling during the national anthem. However, Goodell’s response didn’t do much to alleviate the NFL’s troubles.
This video caption reads, "Roger Goodell: 'We believe everyone should stand for the National Anthem' | NFL." But other messages aren't quite as clear. In a memo to owners, Goodell wrote, "we also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues. The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues."
In a tweet and elsewhere, President Trump has made his perspective clear.
Women in every industry are showing empathy and compassion to those who have suffered from sexual harassment and assault. After exposure of Harvey Weinstein's years of sexual harassment, women are coming forward on social media to say they, too, have been victims.
Social media connects people, but often those connections are negative, with online bullying and harassment getting the most attention. Now people are showing their vulnerability and coming together in solidarity to stop what many believe is a pervasive practice.
The latest women to admit their experience are in the U.S. Senate, including Senators Claire McCaskill and Mazie Hirono.
A writer The Washington Post commends women who speak out, but she warns that not everyone has to:
Plenty of people talk about how brave it is to speak out, and they’re right. It is brave to speak out, but that doesn’t make you a coward if you don’t.
As more female victims come forward to describe Harvey Weinstein's sexual harassment behavior, one male celebrity admits to knowing and doing not enough about it at the time. Director Quentin Tarantino said, “I knew enough to do more than I did,” and “There was more to it than just the normal rumors, the normal gossip. It wasn’t secondhand. I knew he did a couple of these things.”
Tarantino cited incidents with women including his former girlfriend Mira Sorvino and also said, “I wish I had taken responsibility for what I heard,” and “If I had done the work I should have done then, I would have had to not work with him.”
The director regrets not seeing the larger pattern of abuse and demonstrates vulnerability when he admits, “Anything I say now will sound like a crappy excuse,” and “I chalked it up to a ’50s-’60s era image of a boss chasing a secretary around the desk,” he said. “As if that’s O.K. That’s the egg on my face right now.”
Unsurprisingly, Tarantino says others close to Weinstein also knew and did nothing to stop the abuse.
Above is a picture of Tarantino in the movie Pulp Fiction.
George Soros has given $18 billion to The Open Society Foundations, his grant-giving organizations. A spokesperson for the group said the transfer "reflects an ongoing process of asset transfer that has been underway for several years." She also said that Soros, "plans to leave the vast majority of his wealth to the Open Society foundations." His fortune is estimated at more than $26 billion.
The 87-year-old Hungarian has been criticized for aiding refugees and influencing local politics. On the website, The Open Society Foundations identify the mission and vision, including this first statement:
The Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant societies whose governments are accountable and open to the participation of all people.
The website also shows this graphic for expenditures.
I have terrible timing. Before a conference in Dublin, I'm visiting Caherdaniel, along the southwest coast of Ireland—during a category 3 hurricane. Tweets about the storm reveal the Irish sense of humor and perceptions of Americans.
It's not all bad: some memes are just funny, comparing Americans' reactions to Hurricanes to the Irish's reactions. The difference is understandable because obviously we have more experience, including recent Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico.
Other tweets portray Americans as gun bearers:
Many poke fun at drinking:
And still others reference having to work although all public schools in Ireland are closed:
Commenting on employers' responses, one wrote, "An awful lot of people found out what companies really think of them."
Dove has been touted for its "Real Beauty" campaign that shows real women, not models. But now the company is being criticized for an ad intended to show diversity. The ad includes women taking off a shirt to reveal another woman underneath.
The trouble is that the ad starts with a Black woman to reveal a White woman, implying to many critics that the Black person "got clean" and became White. In the ad, the White woman then takes off her shirt to reveal an Asian woman.
The company apologized and pulled the ad: "Dove is committed to representing the beauty of diversity. In an image we posted this week, we missed the mark in thoughtfully representing women of color and we deeply regret the offense that it has caused." A spokesperson also said the GIF, "was intended to convey that Dove Body Wash is for every woman and be a celebration of diversity, but we got it wrong and, as a result, offended many people."
Earlier this year, Nivea produced an ad, "White Is Purity." People didn't appreciate that one either.
Toyota's new advertising approach is to tailor Camry commercials to people based on their assumed ethnicity. If your history shows that you watch Scandal or Sunday Night Football, you'll get a particular ad.
A New York Times article shows the differences for African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American, and "Transcultural Mainstream."
A group vice president for Toyota explains the strategy, "if a person of any group is looking for communication that is like them, that looks like them specifically, the good news is because of the breadth of something like a Camry campaign, they can find it." The NYT article explains more detailed strategies for eight ads targeted to ethnic groups.
We might expect a congressman who serves on the U.S. government's House Pro-Life Caucus to be against abortion in his personal life. But Representative Tim Murphy reportedly suggested that his girlfriend get an abortion if she is pregnant.
A women who says she was having an affair with Murphy went public with text messages:
She: "...zero issue posting your pro-life stance all over the place when you had no issue asking me to abort our unborn child just last week when we thought that was one of the options."
He: "I've never written them. Staff does them. I read them and winced. I told staff don't write any more."
Curiously, he didn't dispute her allegation about the abortion request. Pro-life advocates criticized Murphy for his "hypocrisy."
Although the woman wasn't pregnant, Murphy resigned from his position. House Speaker Paul Ryan announced the decision, saying "I think it's appropriate he move on to the next chapter in his life." Murphy said he'll "take personal time to seek help as my family and I continue to work through our personal difficulties."
Murphy also posted a statement on his website:
For Immediate Release: October 4, 2017 Contact: Carly Atchison 202.225.2301
WASHINGTON, DC - Today Congressman Tim Murphy (PA-18) released the following statement:
“After discussions with my family and staff, I have come to the decision that I will not seek reelection to Congress at the end of my current term. “I plan to spend my remaining months in office continuing my work as the national leader on mental health care reform, as well as issues affecting working families in southwestern Pennsylvania. “We have accomplished much in the past year through the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act and there is much work yet to be done. “In the coming weeks I will take personal time to seek help as my family and I continue to work through our personal difficulties and seek healing. I ask you to respect our privacy during this time.”
A study by researchers at Tulane University found that CEOs who use "self-inclusive language" on earnings calls leave more positive impressions. Self-inclusive language means using first-person pronouns that include the speaker, and they can take singular or plural forms (for examples, "I", "we," "us," "my," "our"). When executives didn't use pronouns (for example, "Webtex's managers" or "Webtex management"), investors reacted less favorably to disclosures, whether positive or negative. The study script is below.
In addition to the experimental study, the article includes results from text analysis of more than 50,000 earnings calls. Correlating language used in the calls with market reactions, the authors confirm results from the experiment.
A Wall Street Journal article quotes James Pennebaker, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin about the study: "The way I interpret it is that the manager’s coming across as more human." Pennebaker is referring to authenticity, and that likely is part of the explanation. Another possibility is that executives sound more accountable, which might also cause investors to respond favorably. In the article, the authors also hypothesize:
"When news is positive, investors react more positively to managers’ use of SIL because they infer managers are more likely to have high ability. When news is negative, investors also react more positively to managers’ use of SIL as it appears that managers are more in control of the situation."
Former Equifax CEO Richard Smith admitted failures during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing. Smith had already apologized in a video statement, but during the hearing, he mentioned his personal accountability:
"The criminal hack happened on my watch. I am truly and deeply sorry for what happened."
Yet critics say that Equifax is still not taking full responsibility. A TechCrunch article highlights Smith's testimony blaming one person:
"The human error was that the individual who’s responsible for communicating in the organization to apply the patch, did not."
The TechCrunch writer seems to think this is ridiculous:
"The notion that just one person didn’t do their job and led to the biggest breach in history is quite an amazing claim and shows a fundamental lack of good security practices. But that’s what Smith says led to this disaster."
Smith and Equifax's CIO retired from the company after the news became public, which took a while: executives apparently knew about a software issue back in March, but the company didn't announce the breach until September.
A Wired article cites "6 Fresh Horrors from the Equifax CEO's Congressional Hearing." In addition to the delayed admission, the article attack's Equifax's technology, including inadequate patching, failure to encrypt data, limited security reviews, and insufficient website capabilities.
Another twist is this case is why three top people in the company sold $1.8 million in stock around the time they would have learned of the breach. Smith denies questions of integrity:
“I’ve know these individual for up to 12 years. They’re men of integrity. I have no indication that they had any knowledge of the breach when they made this sale."
The Telegraph calls it a "car crash" and "one of the most disastrous conference speeches in history." British Prime Minister Theresa May faced three problems in front of the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester.
First, a protestor interrupted the speech to hand her a "P45," which is a document used to fire workers in the U.K. (Sounds like a "pink slip" in the U.S.) The prankster was escorted out, and May recovered by making a joke: "I was about to talk about someone I'd like to give a P45 to, and that's Jeremy Corbyn," who is the leader of the Labour Party.
Then, she had a coughing fit and had to drink a glass of water, some of which seemed to spill into her hand. (Here, I'm reminded of Marco Rubio's odd sip of water.)
Finally, captions dropped a letter, leaving "for" as "or." The Telegraph and other media outlets reported this mishap as "the stage falls apart," but I would say that's quite an exaggeration.