Picking Your Approach
Lori Anne Shaw, M.S.
Oprah and James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, have a checkered past. A recovering addict, Frey promoted his book as a memoir about his battle with addiction. As expected, the book saw huge success when Oprah chose it for her Book Club in 2006. Months after Oprah promoted the book on her show, reporters alleged that Frey’s story was grossly embellished and that the book should have been promoted as fiction rather than a memoir. Journalists attacked Oprah for endorsing the book. In response, she invited Frey to her show.
In a tension-filled confrontation, Oprah (and several journalists) questioned Frey about the book’s inaccuracies and condemned him for promoting it as nonfiction. In an effort to save face, Oprah charged Frey with betraying her and her viewers. Frey admitted wrongdoing, apologized, and was visibly shocked and unprepared for (what seemed to be) the unraveling of his career and reputation on national television. Viewers likened to show to a “public lashing,” and Oprah was criticized for treating Frey too harshly in the interview.
Five years later, Frey and Oprah met again. Oprah devoted two shows to the final interview with Frey. Drastically different from her previous interview, Oprah approached Frey as a learner, a seeker of his story. With compassion and kindness, she treated him like a valuable person. Take two minutes and watch her apology to him here. Whether you’re an Oprah fan or not, there a couple of lessons we can learn from the different ways Oprah approaches Frey:
As peacemakers, when we find ourselves in conflict we want to be the kind of listeners that cultivate openness in the other person. When a relationship we treasure has been damaged we want to reap the benefit of exchanging transformation stories and restoring trust. So, how can we make sure we pick the right approach? When we face embarrassment, how do we keep our egos from ruling (and ruining) our treatment of others? How do we allow compassion to overcome the urge to save face? Furthermore, as mediators, how do we create environments fertile for self-reflection and compassion so that parties have the opportunity to see each other’s humanity? I’ll be taking a closer look at these questions in the coming newsletters. Join me!