Dealing with an Angry Public

A devastating accident. A toxic leak. Regulatory failure.
Massive product recall. Contaminated food.
A controversial facility.
An oil spill.

Crises – that engender profound public anger – often come without notice. In the world of Twitter and YouTube, you must respond almost instantaneously and lead with confidence. The consequences of failure can result in irreparable damage to your personal reputation and the reputation of your organization.

You need to know how to communicate with an angry public.

Public and private sector executives continue to make the mistake of turning to a flawed public relations strategy: they retreat behind expert testimony and big name endorsements. They are pilloried in blogs and on talk shows and they lose in the court of public opinion. There is another way. Learn how to negotiate directly with those who are upset with you; build understanding and working relationships; and enlist the support of would-be detractors. Convert potential disaster into opportunity. Enhance your organization’s image.


At the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program and at The Consensus Building Institute, we have developed a powerful and proven process for dealing effectively with people who are upset and angry – from consumers, abutters and environmentalists to investigatory committees, potential litigants and investors.

Our strategy for Dealing with an Angry Public (spelled out in our book, Dealing with an Angry Public) is designed for use in both government and corporate arenas. This executive seminar will help you to confidently, quickly, and at minimal cost, regain credibility with groups who have been adversely affected, or who think they will be hurt, by what you have done or what you propose to do. It will help you deal with those who challenge you in a regulatory context.

You’ll learn a practical framework for working with angry publics and for positively affecting public perception by better understanding the other side’s interests, turning confrontation into problem-solving and creating options for mutual gain. You’ll learn how to apply the Mutual Gains Approach to resolving important differences with angry publics, including:

  • People who are angry because you’ve let them down
  • Advocacy groups who want to confront you
  • Those affected by an accident
  • Neighbors or abutters who are upset over perceived health or safety risks, changes to their town or neighborhood, etc.
  • Environmental groups challenging you over land use changes, packaging, manufacture or recycling practices, etc.

Previous instructors have included:

Lawrence Susskind - Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental planning at MIT, Head of the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program, and Founder and Chief Knowledge Officer at the Consensus Building Institute (CBI)
Patrick Field - Managing Director of the Consensus Building Institute, Associate Director of the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program
Michael Wheeler - Class of 1952 Professor of Management at Harvard Business School
Jeff Ansell - Founder of Jeff Ansell & Associates, and an Associate of the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program


“This session was eye-opening. I’ve been doing media relations for 12 years. I learned a lot and will change accordingly.” 
- G. Douglas Johnson, Public Affairs Specialist, Bonneville Power Administration

“A fun-packed, knowledge-filled, two-day course that leaves you feeling energized and armed with strategies to resolve real-world crisis in your workplace.” 
- Linton Johnson, Chief Spokesperson, Bay Area Rapid Transit

“An outstanding experience for novices and seasoned professionals, or anyone wishing to better understand the principles of effective communication.” 
- Randall Kremer, Director, Public Affairs, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institute

“Perhaps the finest 16 professional hours I’ve spent reflecting on how to do what we do better.” 
- Gail Lattrill, Airport Planner, New England Region, U.S. Federal Aviation Administration


Day 1, 8:00 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.

  • Understanding the problem: What’s wrong with the conventional approach to dealing with an angry public?
  • Key elements of the alternative approach to dealing with an angry public
  • Dealing with resistance to a calculated risky decision
  • Public apology

Day 2, 8:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

  • Dealing with disagreements over values
  • Media strategies consistent with mutual gains approach
  • Applying media strategies in a highly contested public controversy