With the government shutdown exceeding 30 days it’s worth asking: Are there any lessons we, as communications professionals, can learn from this ordeal? And for Page members - How do the tactics on both sides measure up to the Page Principles?

As for the first question - the simple answer is NO. Neither side has distinguished itself in either its communications strategy or public behavior. Despite this, there are lessons to be taken from the experience.  First and foremost: How not to communicate during a labor dispute or a government shutdown. Further, the drama has illustrated some important lessons. These include:

  • Don’t let emotions – or scorekeeping – drive communications strategy or tactics
  • Don’t negotiate in the media (or on line either)
  • Exercise restraint in your comments (limit posturing and “gotcha” quotes) 
  • Limit the use of surrogates and control their visibility and message(s)
  • Remember the stakeholders are more important than you

On the second question – How do the Page Principles apply? No surprises here – neither side comes out well when this filter is applied.

From the first Page Principle ("Tell the Truth") to the last ("Remain calm, patient and good humored") all parties come up very short.

Especially noteworthy is the guidance to "Listen to the Stakeholders" and "Manage for Tomorrow," which are two of the key principles. The 800,000 furloughed government employees (and those required to work without being paid) are hostages in a drama beyond their control- and they have no voice in the debate. Similarly, the advice to "Manage for Tomorrow," is clearly not top of mind for either side. The longer this goes on the more damage is being done – to the services we all take for granted.

While I am not suggesting the Page Principles could end the shutdown, following them might allow the principals to get back to negotiating. That would be a good start.

The silver lining – if there is one – is learning how essential government services are in our everyday lives and gaining an appreciation for the workers who provide them to us.

Here’s hoping for a reasonable settlement - for all of our sakes - soon.