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Contast Analysis: A Tool for Strategists to Get Management’s Attention

shutterstock_602973302-pencilFeatured in the March edition of Minnesota PRSA Perspectives Blog

By James E. LukaszewskiABC, Fellow IABC; APR, Fellow PRSA; PRSA BEPS Emeritus

This is one of my favorite tools for discussing serious problems with management.  It is simply a side-by-side comparison of the assumptions we make about a given situation, and the realities of that situation in the words of victims, employees, critics and those indirectly affected.

This is a discussion technique and method of analysis for presentation and education of management. This method of analysis will trigger: “Which matters more, our assumptions or the perceptions and realities of those whose lives we affect?” Do I need to tell you which answer is correct?

I use this method to test assumptions and theories against realistic victim, survivor, family and community realities. The result is often very sobering. The technique is fairly straight forward. It begins, when I do it, by standing in front of an easel and the following steps take place:

  1. Draw a vertical line down the center of the pad
  2. Label the left side “what we assume/say” and label the right side “the realities of” or something similar
  3. On the left side, list the assumptions we generally make about the situation or issue being analyzed
  4. On the right side, one by one, list and discuss the corresponding reality statements or responses and why they matter more than our assumptions

I have included several examples of this approach to give you a sense of the different kinds of circumstances in which this method of analysis and management discussion works.


Contrast Analysis 1. Patient Death

This dialogue is based closely on a conversation I witnessed with one of my hospital clients not too long ago.  The situation being the death of a child and the hospital trying to explain to the victim’s parents its way out of the problem it had created for itself.

What We Assume/Say What Victims, Families/Survivors, Employees, Communities Really Care About
1. Deaths of this nature are very rare. 1. “So, my son’s death doesn’t matter?”
2. We asked your son to be more vocal about what the procedure actually was supposed to be. 2. “So, it’s my son’s fault that you removed the wrong organ?”
3. We donate millions of dollars to charity care and research each year. 3. “It didn’t prevent my son’s death, did it?How many others have you killed this way?”
4. It’s a very complicated procedure that was explained to you and your son, and we told you there were going to be risks. 4. “I don’t recall you talking about your own negligence and callous carelessness. You don’t care, do you?”
5. Our staff saves thousands of lives every year. We are one of the most highly ranked hospitals in our market. 5. “So, you should get to forgive yourself because so many are luckier than my son?”
6. On the scale of problems and tragedies hospitals can experience, and while any death is one death too many, on the whole, we are very proud of our medical practice excellence. 6. “He was my only son.”
7. We are so very sorry for your loss, but your son’s situation just doesn’t merit the kind of settlement you are looking for.Even if we gave you 10 times what you’re asking, it wouldn’t bring your son back and it would ruin the reputation of a top physician. 7. “True, but it would hurt you badly enough that you’ll think long and hard before you make the same mistakes that took my son’s life, and murder someone else’s child. I’m not doing this for me; I’m doing this to protect others from you.”
8. We don’t believe it was our fault. 8. “It happened in your hospital, under your care, with your award-winning staff in charge. Who else is there to blame?”



Contrast Analysis 2. Management’s Great Plans

All too often management gets so excited about what it has decided in private, that the rest of us are going to be doing soon, that when they begin explaining what they’re up to, aside from just announcing it, it’s often helpful (although irritating to management) to have the discussion illustrated using the contrastanalysis below.

On the left side, we have “management’s assumptions.” This is the list of the usual suspects. On the right side, community realities.

Management Assumptions Employee, Customer, Community Realities
 – Excitement– Opportunity

– Optimism

– Tomorrow

– Urgency

– You’re going to love it!

– You’re to see how wonderful these activities will be!

– Bull-eve-me!

 – Fear– Contention

– Disruption

– Helplessness

– Resistance

– Stress

– Uncertainty

– Yeah, sure



Contrast Analysis 3. Convincing a Community to Accept a Big, New Facility or Project

The analysis below is really about what makes communities and individuals angry when businesses or government agencies propose major projects.

First, you need to understand the six powerful community core values. A core value is defined as a personal, protective belief held by individuals in the community that cannot be altered, affected or changed without the community’s participation or permission. Understanding what makes communities get angry is essential to understanding what this contrast analysis is discussing.

Six powerful community core values:

1. Health and safety issues

  • Any time what is proposed involves health or safety issues, the public will be concerned, often even alarmed. They will act on these emotions.
  • Dismissing or minimizing these concerns can be fatal to any proposal

2. Value of possessions and property

  • Second most powerful concern in communities is the value of property, homes and businesses, the value of possessions, anything of value (could even be emotional value) that could be affected by what’s being proposed
  • Here again, failure to accommodate, understand and appreciate these concerns, and sometimes fears, can torpedo even the finest project

3. Environmental questions or threats

  • These concerns are among the most universal, immediate and urgent concerns of communities
  • These issues get raised by people from all walks of life, people from all economic strata, people of all ages beginning with grade-schoolers or younger, in every culture
  • Environmental concerns can be a huge flashpoint and often are the source of enormous delays and outrage that can prevent proposals

4. Quality of life issues

  • Including freedom from fear, absence of conflict, pride in community and peace of mind – all of which the proposer is rightfully blamed for causing

5. Peer pressure

  • This is when neighbors organize themselves and critics begin to launch door-to-door initiatives, social media and then demonstrations and other overt acts of opposition
  • Quite often, if the opposition gets to this stage, it is unlikely the proposal will proceed or look anything like what was originally proposed
  • When neighbors are in the street or actively demonstrating, it’s extremely hard to walk proposals and ideas back to a point where people can calm down to a more rational perspective. If the proposal lets it get to this irrational stage of community outrage, better to look for another place to propose it or abandon it altogether.

6. Economic impact

  • This subject is last on the list intentionally
  • This is the last concern of those directly impacted by a proposal. You’ll note in the contrast analysisbelow, in the left-hand column, all the ingredients of success the proposer traditionally believes attract community attention and support
  • Communities will sacrifice their own economic benefit if they fear what is coming
  • As in previous contrast analyses, the realities of the communities, on the right-hand side of this analysis, are far more powerful
  • The community cares nothing about what is on the left-hand side, the proposer’s assumptions
  • What they really are concerned about, and fear, frankly, are the questions and comments reflected on the right-hand side
  • Economic promises rarely live up to the hype they receive from proposers. There are no guarantees.

To be successful in proposing projects and programs, it is answering the questions, concerns and fears expressed on the right-hand side that far outweigh the “good news” contained on the left-hand side.


Proposer Assumptions Community Realities
 1. New jobs  1. “For whom? Big jobs filled by transferees coming into the community.”“Only remedial jobs are assured.”
2. Positive economic impact 2. “At what cost and collateral damage?”
3. Needed infrastructure 3. “Says who? Plus, dust, construction issues, strangers in town, parking in my neighborhood, dumping out their lunch pails on my lawn.”
4. New tax revenue 4. “Too disruptive to offset any benefits.”
5. Expanded philanthropy 5. “Too disruptive to our culture, more harm than good.”“Locals will be left out.”
6. Community engagement 6. “Just more cultural disruptions and competitive organizations, most of whom have very low memberships.”
7. New incentives to trigger local economic growth 7. “Just more strangers in town to keep track of, clean up after, fear and to take the good jobs away from the locals.”


The message in all of these examples is that in order to sell change, it’s the realities of the recipients, neighbors and victims that needs satisfying – no matter how wonderfully presented the proposed ideas.

It’s about getting the public’s permission to precede.

James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, Fellow IABC; APR, Fellow PRSA, PRSA BEPS Emeritus is president of The Lukaszewski Group Division at Risdall.  This article is excerpted from his 2008 book Why Should the Boss Listen to You? The Seven Disciplines of the Trusted Strategic Advisor (© 2008 Jossey Bass). This material is used by permission of John Wiley & Sons.

 Jim Lukaszewski began his Public Relations career as a member of former Minnesota Governor Wendell R. Anderson’s press staff in 1974. He first became a member of PRSA and the Minnesota Chapter in 1978 when he and his wife Barbara opened their first PR firm in Fridley. They merged their firm with another local firm, Brum and Anderson in 1983 then moved to New York and were based there in their own firm until 2011 when Barbara retired, they returned to Minnesota and Jim joined Risdall in Roseville.

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