Addressing Controversy in Your Podcast with “LAURA”

There are controversial issues in every industry, including those covered by podcasting. Remember “LAURA” when you need to discuss controversy in your podcast.

1. Listen

A controversy is one form of conflict. And one of the best ways to deal with conflict is to simply listen.

I don't mean to listen only to the words others are using, but listen to what they are expressing with their words and emotions. Are they hurt? Are they angry?

Not all negative emotions are valid and reasonable, but listening will help ensure your information is correct.

Also listen most to your audience. They are your community. There could be controversy in your industry, but your audience may not care about it very much. Or, your audience may care a lot more about certain issues than others.

Some of my worst decisions while addressing controversy have been when I stopped listening to my audience and instead shared what I thought they wanted to hear or avoided what I thought they didn't want.

But even though you listen, that doesn't mean you're obligated to address the controversy—from a particular perspective, or even at all.

2. Acknowledge

You may not need to fully discuss the controversial issue because simply acknowledging it could be good enough for your podcast.

Acknowledgment is very effective, especially when paired with respect. Think about your own conflicts with people and how different they would go if the other person simply acknowledged your opinion before they responded with theirs? (I'm still working on this, myself!)

3. Understand

Do you truly understand everyone's interests and feelings? It's easy for us to marginalize something when it doesn't matter to us.

With understanding comes sympathy, or perhaps even empathy. When you listen to those affected by the controversy, you'll usually be confronted with some form of “You don't understand.”

You should also try to truly understand the issue. It's possible there is a lot of misinformation fuelling the controversy: rumors, misinterpretations, baseless attacks, and such.

I love this quotation from Ender's Game.

In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it's impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves.

4. Respect

The hardest part of handling controversy is showing respect. You may let the controversy put you at complete odds with others, but never forget respect.

The Bible is full of radical ideas. Among them is Jesus's words, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you …” (Matthew 5:44, ESV). You may not agree with anything else from or about Jesus, but think about how radically different our world would be if we truly respected each other, despite our differences?

Sometimes, respecting the issue, people, and feelings may mean remaining silent. Maybe your podcast is not an appropriate forum for you to address the issue, or to address it in the way that would be truest to your beliefs.

But if you do decide to address the issue, then do so with great respect. Recognize that on “hot-button” issues, people can be extremely quick to misinterpret and react to almost anything you say, and it's just as easy to not say something to avoid giving certain impressions.

5. Accept

Finally, comes acceptance. This doesn't mean tolerating other beliefs, but it means accepting the people with other beliefs.

You may also have to simply accept the hate you receive for your position, but not retaliate or try to appease.

You also need to accept that you most likely won't change someone else's mind on controversial issues.

Lastly, you may have to accept the fact that there's controversy, and move on.

Listening, acknowledging, understanding, and respecting someone’s opinions can all be done without compromising your own. Accepting their opinion is different. Unless you are accepting that their opinion is different than yours.

—Mark Des Cotes from Solo Talk Media

Some thoughts from Podcasters' Society members

I think because podasting is often compared to the wild west, even though there aren't rules regarding what is said — “if they don't like it, they don't have to listen” — it's worth noting that topics of controversy aren't always the best way to grow an audience. Unless, maybe that podcast IS geared toward a specific point of view.

My husband, who is very opinionated is surprisingly quiet when he hears people with points of view I know he doesn't agree with. I asked him why he didn't speak up yet, and he said, “Have you ever argued with someone and actually got them to change their opinion? It's very rare that happens, so it's not worth the energy. Best case scenario, you agree to disagree. But the worst case scenario can be much worse.”

—Emily Prokop from Classy Little Podcast

My take on controversy, if you want to get involved (and sometimes you don’t) is to state your argument in a clear precise matter once and leave it at that. If someone doesn’t view it the same way you do there’s seldom any amount of convincing that will work. And repeating yourself over and over to try to drive your point home is a sure way to to escalate the conversation into an argument.

—Mark Des Cotes from Solo Talk Media

I think it really depends on the nature of your show. If your show is about issues, address it, talk about it, deconstruct it. But if you want to honor the feel of your show and your audience perhaps taking the time as a host and say something like “we understand this is an issue but not one that fits the feel our show but here are a couple really good conversations that are going on about this issue”… something like that

—Jeff from An Irenicon

I also think the art of debate is lost. Everyone gets offended. Then they lash out emotionally. Which offends the other side and they do the same thing. Once your emotions kick in the battle is lost.

—John Bukenas from To Be Honest Podcast

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About the Author
As an award-winning podcaster, Daniel J. Lewis gives you the guts and teaches you the tools to launch and improve your own podcasts for sharing your passions and finding success. Daniel creates resources for podcasters, such as the SEO for Podcasters and Zoom H6 for Podcasters courses, the Social Subscribe & Follow Icons plugin for WordPress, the My Podcast Reviews global-review aggregator, and the Podcasters' Society membership for podcasters. As a recognized authority and influencer in the podcasting industry, Daniel speaks on podcasting and hosts his own podcast about how to podcast. Daniel's other podcasts, a clean-comedy podcast, and the #1 unofficial podcast for ABC's hit drama Once Upon a Time, have also been nominated for multiple awards. Daniel and his son live near Cincinnati.
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Steve Wilkinson
8 years ago

Daniel, I just wanted to say that I absolutely love these lines near the end of the podcast:

“No one is really, truly unbiased, so we all come to things with a particular bias, and that will come out … we are absolutely unable to keep our worldview out of our worldview.”

That is SO true. If I could just get people to understand that, it would certainly cut down on a lot of the controversy. Too many in our culture today consider their views some kind of neutral, unbiased position to which all other positions need to answer. And, that’s just not the case.

Greg Hyatt
8 years ago

Daniel,this was a great episode. Unfortunately, my last podcast that I was doing I had to allow to slip into the pod abyss. Seeing as I have re-launched a new website with a new theme and direction, I am looking forward to getting back into the podcasting arena. I have always been one for being on the front of controversial topics and certainly feel that there is a wide open playing field for those who are willing to take the risk and dive into them. Thanks for all of the amazing information and training that you continue to provide to your listening audience.


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