Dealing with an Angry Public The Mutual Gains Approach to Resolving Public Disputes

Lawrence Susskind & Patrick Field

Winner of the 1996 CPR Award for Excellence in ADR (Outstanding Book Category)

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Some portion of the American public will react negatively to almost any new corporate initiative, as Disney discovered when it announced its plans to build an historical theme park in Virginia. Similarly, government efforts to change policy or shift budget priorities are invariably met with stiff resistance. In this enormously practical book, Lawrence Susskind and Patrick Field analyze scores of both private and public-sector cases, as well as crisis scenarios such as the Alaskan oil spill, the silicone breast implant controversy, and nuclear plant malfunction at Three Mile Island. They show how resistance to both public and private initiatives can be overcome by a mutual gains approach involving face-to-face negotiation, a strategy applied successfully by over fifteen hundred executives and officials who have attended Professor Susskind's MIT-Harvard "Angry Public" seminars.

Susskind and Field outline the six key elements of this approach in order to help business and government leaders negotiate, rather than fight, with their critics. In the process, they show how to identify who the public is, whose concerns to address first, which people and organizations must be convinced of the legitimacy of action taken, and how to assess and respond to different types of anger effectively. Acknowledging the crucial role played by the media in shaping public perception and understanding, Susskind and Field suggest a way to develop media interaction which is consistent with the six mutual gains principles, and also discuss the type of leadership that corporate and government managers must provide in order to combine these ideas into a useful whole.

We all need to be concerned about a society in which the public's concerns, fears, and anger are not adequately addressed. When corporate and government agencies must spend crucial time and resources on rehashing and defending each decision they make, a frustrated and angry public contributes to the erosion of confidence in our basic institutions and undermines our competitiveness in the international marketplace. In this valuable book, Susskind and Field have produced a strong, clear framework which will help reduce these hidden costs for hundreds of executives, managers, elected and appointed officials, entrepreneurs, and the public relations, legal, and other professionals who advise them.


"Wonderfully subversive of the established order. Among other things, this book will transform the nature of public life while rendering obsolete the field of corporate public relations." – John Marks, President, Search for Common Ground

"For every corporate attorney and any CEO whose company has more than 100 employees, this is real world process and problem-solving." – Judith Kroeger, President, Kroeger Associates

"Executives, governmental leaders, public relations professionals, attorneys, and others need to read this book before they are in the midst of their next crisis. It will provide the basis for seeking reason in the sea of emotion that accompanies most conflicts." – Max H. Bazerman, J. Jay Gerber Distinguished Professor of Dispute Resolution and Organizations, J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Northwestern University

"Offers a new approach to old problems. A virtual jumping off the path for companies in finding a route to problem solving." – Larry Marullo, director, External Affairs, Southwestern Bell Telephone Company

"Sets forth a powerful strategy for dealing with the major public policy controversies. This book is the perfect antidote to an increasing tendency to polarize issues and escalate tensions." – Frank E.A. Sander, Bussey Professor and Associate Dean, Harvard Law School



Lawrence E. Susskind is Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning at MIT, President of the Consensus Building Institute, and one of America's most experienced public dispute mediators.

Patrick T. Field is a Senior Associate of the Consensus Building Institute, and a Research Associate of the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Project.

Dealing with an Angry Public Attributes

Author: Lawrence Susskind and Patrick Field
Publisher: New York, NY: Free Press, 1996