Rob Cottingham

Rob Cottingham
Location
Vancouver, Canada
Birthday
January 01
Title
Director of Integrated Communications
Company
NOW Communications Group Inc.
Bio
Cartoonist. Speaker. Social media enabler.

MY RECENT POSTS

MAY 25, 2012 6:07PM

When clarification isn’t

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But taking to the Internet — and taking advantage of the near-infinite time it allows to clarify remarks — sometimes does more harm than good.

That’s TechPresident’s Nick Judd, looking at Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s “tortured-looking YouTube reversal” (to quote Politico) and drawing a parallel with Komen CEO Nancy Brinker’s YouTube intervention from a few months ago.

But it’s a mistake to assume the goal from speakers is always to clarify their remarks. Sometimes those remarks were perfectly clear; the purpose of the follow-up statement is to apply a rhetorical Gaussian Blur filter. Trouble is, it’s pretty obvious that’s what’s happening.

When the damage was actually caused by your remarks’ meaning being crystal clear, trying to change their meaning after the fact is a mistake. (And in related news, “I apologize to anyone who was offended because they were so stupid” is a losing strategy, too.) As a speaker, you have to own your words.

I see three strategies that let you get through this with some degree of integrity:

  • One, if what you said is what you believe, you’re on the record now – live with it. Recommit to its substance, if not to the way you phrased it.

  • Two, if you were speaking off the top of your head, but a few days of reflection have led you to reconsider, say so, and explain.
  • And three, if you phrased something so poorly that everyone took the wrong meaning from it, don’t cop out with a “I’m sorry if people misunderstood me.” Instead, something like “I’m sorry – I fumbled my words badly, and it left people with a terribly mistaken impression. It’s the complete opposite of what I meant to say, which was…”
  • Of course, if your original statement was ambiguous, or if it was reasonable but has had its meaning twisted by others, then by all means, clarify. But if by “clarifying” you mean making things less clear, it’s time to rethink your approach.

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