Monday, June 11, 2007

A Sunni Sheik’s PR Strategy

There was a poignant story in The New York Times a few weeks ago about a Sunni Sheik in Iraq whose home was occupied by American soldiers. Holding out hope that the day would arrive when it might be returned, he embarked on a unique and hopeful communications strategy: visit the Captain of the American soldiers daily and build a relationship. While obviously untrained in the science of communications, Sheik Duleimi’s approach is far reaching. He might have sulked and left the area. He might have become an irritant. Instead he decided on a bridge building approach. This is probably not common in this war-torn country. Thus, here are three “communications lessons” that can be derived from this situation:

Good Communicators Express Mutual Respect: Despite Sheik Duleimi's antipathy toward the American enterprise in Iraq, his visits with Captain Chris Calihan are cordial and have become something of a self-affirming ritual for both men. The Sheik reminds the American whose house this really is. The captain replies, “You're kind for letting us stay here,” allowing the Sheik to retain some dignity.

Good Communicators Are in It for the Long Haul: The regular contact helps the captain maintain at least the tacit cooperation of the community's leaders in the fight against the hard-core Sunni resistance. And despite his obvious — and very reasonable — frustration with the Americans who occupy his house, the Sheik looks ahead to the time when his life returns to normal. ''Take care of my house,'' he murmurs to the soldiers, when he leaves, and hopes his visits will be a factor in American preservation of his home and the day when it will be returned in relatively good condition.

Good Communicators Acknowledge the Complexity of Life: ''To take my home in this way is not right,'' the Sheik says. He sees the Americans as occupiers who came uninvited to Iraq and who, in their rush to remove Saddam Hussein, may have damaged the country beyond repair … but, the Sheik says, he also wants the Americans to stay, at least until some semblance of stability is restored.

Technorati Tags: The New York Times, Sunni Sheik, Iraq, Sheik Duleimi, Saddam Hussein, respect, communication lessons, cooperation, stability, business, communications, public relations


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