Article Date: 7/1/2008

Mudslinging and Smear Tactics

Mudslinging and Smear Tactics

Dirty politics knows no boundaries, except those we impose.

Jim Thomas

Mudslinging, smear tactics and name calling aren't complete surprises in an election year. In fact, political mudslinging as a campaign tactic "is as popular as it's ever been," according to a recent PBS report, "Dirty Politics 2008."

Unfortunately, the practice of dirty politics isn't confined solely to politics. Competitors in the realms of business, sports, the arts and education have employed mudslinging in public for as long as there have been public forums. And for those who can't get enough, today scores of sports and news channels in cable television exist.

Some observers claim there's a simple reason for dirty politics — namely, the strategy works. While we may recall cases of candidates or competitors who tossed mud and won, I don't know that there's strong evidence to suggest that going dirty is a consistently effective strategy.

Why bash?

Often times, it's easier to criticize another party — no matter the justification — than it is to make a case for your side of the story based on merits that may require your audience to interpret complicated information. Dirt makes for better sound bites.

Competitors who stoop to bashing need only one thing: a receptive audience. So, you could reason that if you ignore mudslinging, it will go away. Generally speaking though, society accepts and often embraces this dark side of communication.

Cleaning muddy waters

While there's little we can do as individuals about dirty politics on a national scale, we do have the power to curb mudslinging in our offices. In optometric practices, where staffs tend to work closely together, inappropriate comments and verbal attacks compromise productivity and morale. Some tips to minimize dirty politics:

Address mudslinging as soon as you discover it. Regardless of management style and your preferred course of action, timely resolution is critical, as mudslinging can spread quickly.

Create a forum, such as weekly meetings, where employees can learn appropriate communication. Proper communication requires a manager's guidance and regular practice for your staff. Teach constructive communication skills that emphasize respect for fellow staffers and patients.

Be a role model. When managers consistently speak in positive upbeat terms, staff often become motivated and energized. And just as important, they learn that dirty politics is best left for the media "professionals." OM

Optometric Management, Issue: July 2008