November 9, 2015

Fighting Dirty: Preparing for the Inevitable

close up a leaves near the waterOr, What the Confederate Flag Can Teach Leaders




What accusations have they made about you? If you haven’t been accused of anything nasty yet, don‘t worry, you will be—it’s comes with the job.

Your mission can change the world. Your job is to create this change. Most changes will make someone uncomfortable. Some people don’t like any change. Some win if your mission fails. Others want you to take a different tact. Still others will think you’re going too fast or, too slow. When they don’t want a change, people pushback. Expect and embrace pushback as progress. This article is not about normal pushback. It’s about fighting dirty.

The three names that open this article were from the online comments section from a Washington Post article about the removal of the Confederate flag.

Dirty fighters love to call names. They accuse you of terrible faults designed to sever your main artery and shock your mother. They call you a fraud, crook, and a detriment to your cause. When dirty fighters were children, names got them their way on the playground. The dirty fighter still seeks the same success.

Some dirty fighters specialize in drama.

Just like a child who only has temper tantrum in public places, these individuals design slander campaigns that use names and create uproar to get their way. They may or many not personally share their concerns with you. But they usually copy everyone—your board, your donors, your customers, and the community foundation. They copy, for crying out loud, the Nigerian swindlers who’ve been trying to swindle them.

Name-calling campaigns hurt—personally and professionally. Left surgically intact, they create emotional hi-jacks. They distract you and everyone from your mission. If you’re not careful, you move you into time-sucking defensive positions fighting nebulous and unsubstantiated claims. Your job, at worse is to keep them from damaging your mission. At best, you’ll help the dirty fighters to grow up.

Every organization needs a plan to deal with dirty fighting. Dirty fights happen everywhere, but the passions of the nonprofit world make our organizations especially vulnerable.

Your Plan: Divide and Conquer

To fight dirty fighting, recognize and help others to notice its infrastructure. To do so, divide the accusations into two categories: hazardous waste and facts.

Anything that cannot be proven is hazardous waste. Use your pen and boldly cross out every smidgen of this emotional psychobabble. Remove, for example, this Post comment: “The proper confederate flag is the white flag of surrender” and other name-calling.

Discard the cuts into your hazardous waste receptacle. Incinerate.

What’s left? Often little, sometimes a few facts. Resist the temptation to delete this dust. As an ingenious leader, you seek brilliance in every corner. Inspect the shreds for wisdom. What new ideas or perspective is here? For example, one Post comment stated, “I celebrate my heritage with books of classical paintings or poems, and I have no impulse to fly the Five Star Red Flag.” Among the facts, do you see the insight? Flying a flag represents just one way to celebrate heritage.

Decide how you respond next. You might provide facts. Or, you might explore new ways to reach your mission with everyone whose been contacted. You might just remember any new tidbits as you move forward.

Because these attacks never just happen to you, your next step is to protect your organization by helping others to perform this important surgery. How can you prepare your board or staff for the inevitable dirty fight? How about a fact-finding analysis on some other organization’s headline news?

To deal with dirty fighting, eliminate the names and the nebulous. Seek facts and respond. Change dirty fights into a good clean ones, the kind you and your organization win.


Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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