Black and White? Or is it a Bunch of Gray?

A dictionary definition of “gray” says it’s a neutral hue. That makes sense.

But when it comes to defining a person’s decision making — “it is either black or white” or “there is a lot of gray here” — the neutral tint is at the heart of good public relations.

How’s that?

Well, when I sit in a room with a group of decision makers, there’s always a lot of black and white. “Well, it’s clear to me,” opines a staff member. “We either do, or we don’t.” That comment is based upon a lot of things: the facts, opinion, perception and history. Of course, there’s also bias and selective retention in the mix.

But, as public relations practitioners, we must move beyond the easy choices, the inherently less bumpy road, and really delve in to the very essence of what is driving a decision or opinion. My point, in many meetings, is simple: Are we really sure there’s such a clear-cut pathway on this decision? Sure, many times there’s a clear answer. But most of the sure bets occur in physics and math, where you can replicate a process over and over and arrive at the same answer.

Now comes the national election. I’m not so sure there’s a “my way or the highway answer.” Candidates try to show the clear differences between them. “He’s a tax-and-spend liberal” or “he’s right of Attila the Hun.” Then, there’s the public policy debate: “We need to agree that Social Security needs to be protected at all costs.” Well, as a senior who has paid into the system since 1977, I agree. But is there just one answer? No. There are lots of gray areas. It’s complex, rife with ambiguity and nebulous answers.

Bottom line: It’s hard to make a clear choice most times. There’s a lot to be said for a thorough exploration of the gray zone. There, in fact, is likely the best answer.

Do you agree? Yes or no

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