Common Communication Gaffes: Oops…and How to Avoid Doing It Again

We’ve all done it — accidentally sent an email that we immediately wanted to retrieve.  In the world of instant gratification that we now inhabit, where we’re expected to respond in the blink of an eye and be available 24/7, it’s bound to happen. Case in point: the publicist who recently replied all to an email calling a blogger a bitch, not realizing that said blogger was one of the recipients. Oops!

We also recently read a post on Mediabistro about a young job-seeker who emailed a cover letter (of sorts) to a PR firm from his/her iPhone that was filled with embarrassing mistakes.

We’re not perfect either. In our book, Be Your Own Best Publicist: How to Use PR Techniques to Get Noticed, Hired and Rewarded at Work, Jessica talks about the time she called a (now former) editor at one of her company’s magazines a jerk and accidentally included him on the email (sometimes multitasking is not a good idea!). So what can you do in these kinds of circumstances?

1) Apologize for your actions (aka stupidity). Honesty truly is the best policy when you screw up. After Jessica did the slow-mo “Nooooo!” once that email had gone into cyberspace, she picked up the phone and called the guy she had badmouthed, fessed up and said she was sorry. (By the way, he hadn’t even seen the email yet!  Awkward!) They ended up having a heart-to-heart conversation about how her staff felt he was treating them and he had had no idea he was coming across like, well, a jerk. Luckily, the situation led to the smoothing over of a bumpy relationship. But it easily could have made it worse — and it was certainly not the way she would have done it if she had had her druthers.

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What a Scandal! How to React When Your Reputation is On the Line

With Weinergate in full swing and ‘The Sperminator’ and Strauss-Kahn incidents just barely in the rearview mirror, a lot has been said about the various scandals in the news of late (weirdly, all by powerful men making sexual slip-ups) — and the impact of said debacles on a person’s reputation.  But as PR experts, we’ll address the most recent situation with NY Congressman Anthony Weiner, who late last week was accused of having sent lewd photos of himself to unsuspecting young women on Twitter.  He responded by inviting reporters in to interview him about the scandal and then giving cryptic, defensive answers to simple questions about whether, in fact, he had done the deed and whether it was his, ahem, wiener featured in the offending pics.

After denying, deferring and dismissing these accusations, Weiner finally admitted today in a press conference that he had sent photos of his “member of Congress” to several women through Twitter and Facebook and had previously lied about the situation. In our book, Be Your Own Best Publicist, we spend an entire chapter on crisis management and we thought we’d share some of that advice with Rep. Weiner and others who may find themselves in personal or professional pickles.

  • Assess. In PR, when we encounter a crisis situation, the first thing we do is examine the potential damage and consider the best course of action. Staying as calm and objective as possible will help you see potential solutions.

 

  • Admit. If the crisis involves lying, as Weiner’s did, you should fess up and admit your mistakes as quickly as possible.  Honesty is always the best policy. It’s never good practice to lie — trust us, it will inevitably come back and bite you in the ass. And, in the age of YouTube and Twitter, your cover-up will replay over and over again, harming your reputation more than if you had just told the truth.

  • Address. When you do apologize, it’s best to explain why you’re sorry about what you did and, if appropriate, the reasons behind your behavior or actions. Show true remorse for your error in judgment. No fake tears (Do you hear us, Congressman Weiner?), no robotically reading off a prepared statement (Hello, Tiger Woods!).

  • Atone. Try to clean up your mess by righting the wrong as much as you can. Make sure you make it up to the people you’ve hurt (especially if they include your wife). While you can’t reverse the past, you can attempt to have an honorable future.

  • Adapt. A scandal may interfere with your life in lots of ways. It may destroy your family or ruin your career. Either way, you need a game plan for how you’re going to adapt to your circumstances and their effect on your future. Maybe you won’t be the next Mayor of New York City but as we happen to live in a culture of forgiveness, it is possible to make grave mistakes and come back from them (Martha Stewart, anyone?).

Bottom line: The best way to deal with a crisis and do damage control is to face it head on and come clean. Not a lot of people like a cheater — but no one likes a bold-faced liar. We all make mistakes but admitting to them is the first step in repairing a tarnished reputation.

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