Messages inevitably get miscommunicated. They get lost in translation by the media, analysts and pundits. That’s life as a communicator.
Positioning lazy communications – that moment in which the brain disengages from the mouth and pretty much anything comes out – as a misquote isn’t just rich, it’s arrogant and ultimately undermines credibility.
Look no further than the John Kerry furore erupting this election week. Here is what Kerry actually said:
You know, education–if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.
Obviously words of mass destruction in an election week. Rather than just saying “What a really stupid thing to say. That isn’t what I meant. How embarrassing. I apologize to the troops.” – Kerry has this to say:
My statement [Monday]–and the White House knows this full well–was a botched joke about the president and the president’s people, not about the troops. The White House’s attempt to distort my true statement is a remarkable testament to their abject failure in making America safe.
(The closest he’s come, according to Reuters: “Of course, I’m sorry about a botched joke.”).
As the WSJ points out, “”The White House’s attempt to distort my true statement” consists in taking what Kerry actually said at face value.” So, what he really meant to do was, as WSJ goes on to say, is disparage the president’s intelligence and studiousness, to suggest that somehow the liberation of Iraq is the product of Bush’s lack of education. But this makes no sense. Bush has both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Ivy League universities. How can that be if he is both stupid and lazy?”.
What Kerry is trying to say is that is misquoted himself while demonstrating how much more intelligent he is that the President? The argument then is that he is more stupid than my stupidity?
Anyway, the reason I’m writing about all of this is that the story clearly demonstrates several rules from my Messaging Playbook:
- When your wrong, stupid or just plain silly, admit it. Humility and honesty are the fastest paths to redemption.
- Going on the messaging offense from a position of existing weakness = bad strategy. First reclaim ground by doing #1.
- You are rarely ever misquoted. You do or will communicate poorly and stupidly at times. People will forgive you if you ask for forgiveness. Perpetuating the issue by explaining what you were trying to do is the equivalent of handing your competitors a Molotov Cocktail when armed with a water pistol.
- The past (in this case Kerry’s war record) is no antidote to an current messaging fire-fight. The only antidote is the future. Move on fast and do not extend the hype or news cycle.