Rants and Nods: When Words and Actions are Both Significant
On the Saturday, November 9, 2019 episode of Coach’s Corner, Don Cherry made his now famous “poppy rant” to Ron McLean and the tv audience. Without commenting on whether or not this situation was appropriately handled by the network, the two minute rant has given investigators a lot on which to reflect about investigations.
Don Cherry has been a member of hockey royalty since, at least, the mid 1970’s when he coached Bobby Orr and the Boston Bruins. He and Ron McLean have hosted Coach’s Corner since 1987 and Don is a larger than life personality with his colourful opinions and his colourful way of dressing. Because of his personality, he has generated a lot of revenue for different media networks and others, through sponsorships, ads and commercials. It’s hard not to notice him.
Investigators, and particularly third-party, external investigators, are often required to meet with an organization’s “larger than life” individuals during investigations. Many of these individuals generate a lot of revenue or publicity for an organization and/or are in senior management positions. Internally they are treated as “superstars”.
It is not uncommon for an investigator to meet with a superstar as a respondent, where an employee or employees come forward with allegations spanning a period of time and allege that management has not previously addressed concerns raised about the superstar’s inappropriate behaviour.
The point for investigators (and organizations) to remember is not to be intimidated by superstar respondents and to be mindful of any unconscious bias that they have towards the superstar or their position. This works two ways: the superstar respondent is entitled to procedural fairness with the investigator and decision-maker keeping an open mind about the allegations against the person; and the investigator and decision-maker must not shy away from addressing serious, difficult or delicate allegations against the respondent because of their superstar status.
Enablers are bystanders who are witnesses to harassment or bullying but fail to speak up or take action against the harasser or bully about their inappropriate behaviour.
Members of the media and the public have accused Ron McLean as being an enabler during Don’s “rant” for nodding, giving a thumb’s up and not speaking up to Don and condemning his comments.
Ron has subsequently apologized for and explained his actions, however his failure to do so at the time can be perceived as condoning Don’s comments, even if this is not what Ron intended.
What does a nod mean?
A lot of people interpret Ron’s nods as indicating support for Don’s comments, especially when Ron concluded Coach’s Corner with a thumb’s up. Others might interpret the nods as Ron tuning out while Don “was being Don”.
Investigators engage in active listening during interviews, but Ron’s nods serve as a reminder that some people interpret nodding as agreeing with what’s said. So investigators, consider using other forms of active listening such as confirming or what was said, rather than nodding. By all means, don’t give a thumb’s up!
Within a couple of minutes, the “poppy rant” fundamentally changed the lives of Don Cherry and Ron McLean and ended an era. Despite its brevity, those couple of minutes have been, and will continue to be, the subject of ongoing analysis for sports fans, organizations, and investigators for years to come.