As I write this, the government of the most powerful nation in the history of mankind is closed for business. As House Republicans continue to battle the Senate Democrats and president over the shutdown, there’s no clue as to when this crisis will end. While cynics might argue that there’s as much is getting done in Congress today as there was nearly two weeks ago, the truth is that many of the things we take for granted – access to our national parks, food and water safety, even visiting the Lincoln Memorial or Statue of Liberty – are no longer available.

My mother always told me that when life gives me lemons, I should make lemonade. So what lessons can we take from this crisis? Here are 5 Dos and Don’ts that you can use in your work life to keep to your people happy and your business humming along.

Don’t Press Up Against Deadlines (If You Can Help It)

On Oct. 17, the U.S. government will hit the debt ceiling and exhaust its borrowing authority, something that most economists agree will have bad consequences, ranging from a rise in mortgage rates to the destruction of the global economy.

While you’re not likely to crash the world financial system if you miss, say, a press release deadline, you will at the very least upset your boss or client. Likely, you’ll miss out on a critical business opportunity. In some cases, you may lose the client, or even your job. And it’s all because you didn’t manage your time effectively. Learn from what Congress hasn’t yet done. If you see a deadline on the horizon, don’t put it off until the last minute (which, by the way, is a lesson that would have been helpful for me in college…).

Do Engage Your Whole Team

In Federalist #10, James Madison wrote about the risks of factionalism. In his farewell address, George Washington warned of the dangers of political parties. Today, our two dominant political parties are further apart than ever, with both sides leveling charges of extremism against the other. It’s hard to govern when you’re so far apart on the issues. And it’s hard to work effectively when your workplace is broken up into groups that rarely – if ever – interact with each other.

Building a true team not only instills a sense of camaraderie, it helps generate even better ideas – and results – for clients. It never hurts to learn more about your coworkers, how they work, and what their strengths and weaknesses are.

Do Compromise.

A recent poll found that Congress is less popular than hemorrhoids, cockroaches and dog poop (though, to their credit, they are more popular than Ebola and twerking). And I have to think that this is, in large part, because of the refusal to compromise to solve problems. How many times have you looked at the news coming out of Washington and asked, “Why can’t they just meet each other halfway?” As rare as compromise is these days, more and more people are taking Shakespeare to heart when he wrote in Romeo and Juliet, “A plague o’ both your houses!

You’re going to run into people with different views than you all the time. And while it is important to be assertive and stand behind your good ideas, it’s also good to put yourself in someone else’s shoes once in a while. Like it or not, someone is going to have a better idea than you sometime. Learning to accept it and make that idea even better, rather than fighting it tooth and nail, is the hallmark of an effective person – not just an effective PR pro.

Don’t Miss the Small Details

One bright side of the government shutdown is that Congress and the president did come together and pass a bill ensuring U.S. soldiers will continue to receive their paychecks. However, one thing left out of that bill was death benefits for the families of soldiers who lost their lives serving their country. The resulting uproar had both chambers of Congress scrambling to pass legislation providing these benefits, more than a week after the shutdown.

It can be easy to miss small details when you’re working on a big project. It happens to me all the time when I’m writing – a small typo here, a repeated word there. That’s why editors are the unsung heroes of the writing world, and why someone who is always thinking of the little, easy-to-miss details is an incredible asset. Especially in PR, where you might be working long hours on projects with short deadlines. Find them. Be their friend.

Don’t Double Down on a Bad Idea

The worldwide reaction to the shutdown has been one of scorn and mockery, and it’s very unlikely that any PR campaign would change that. This shutdown has become the New Coke of the political world. Some partisans may have thought they had a winner on their hands by not compromising on this shutdown, but public reaction has been overwhelmingly negative and sent approval ratings for both parties plummeting. And yet, instead of following the lead of Coca-Cola and cutting their losses, legislators are doubling down on their positions and bunkering in for the long haul. Don’t be like that. Realize when something isn’t working and change it.

In today’s changing PR landscape, being flexible isn’t an option. It’s a necessity. You need to be able to quickly and efficiently understand the data that’s coming in, spot emerging trends and switch course on the fly in order to ensure the best results for clients.

It’s something that all of us here at Weber Shandwick pride ourselves on. Because without that flexibility, we wouldn’t be around for long. And with the government shuttered and an election on the horizon next year, it’s likely that some of our elected officials won’t be either. 


Image credit: National Parks Conservation Association.

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