Posted by JC on September 20th, 2009
The first thing we tell our clients, from politicians to pop stars, is: ‘Be straightforward, tell the truth – and admit your mistakes’.
In general no-one has too much of a problem with the first two principles. However, although pop stars seem to have turned it into an art form, admitting their mistakes is anathema to politicians (unless the mistakes were made by someone else!) and most people have some difficulty ‘fessing up’ that they were wrong. That’s a pity, because concession is a powerful weapon in the media.
The trouble with denial is that it locks you into a ‘Did, Didn’t’ argument that can waste an entire interview. Criticism often has an element of truth in it. Making a concession will win you brownie points with your interviewer and your audience. It’s refreshing, it’s appealing, and it marks you as an honest person.
Let’s be clear that we’re not proposing that you go into the full mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, beat your breast and then fall on your sword. That’s just nauseating. What we’re suggesting is that, unless there are sound legal reasons why you shouldn’t admit to something, a partial concession will work in your favour.
‘We could have handled that better, but…’ ‘I think we were a bit slow off the mark there, but…’ ‘We weren’t listening as carefully as we should have been, but…’ These are the type of small concessions that, as long as you are offering a remedy, will give you an opportunity to move away from the criticism.
BUT is a wonderful word in interviews. It allows you to turn the conversation round and onto the positive points you want to make:
‘We could have handled that better, but let me tell you what we’ve done to make sure it can’t happen again.’ ‘I think we were a bit slow off the mark there, but our IT people have come up with a brilliant new programme…’ ‘We weren’t listening as carefully as we should have been, but now our staff are dealing with these problems much faster and more empathetically.’
This almost forces the interviewer to ask you more about it – which is exactly what you want: to focus on the solution, not the problem.
So take a deep breath and, if you got something wrong, admit it. It might do you more good than you imagine.
I’ve always had a slippery hold of the truth, and it’s always served me very well. I don’t mind lying faster than a horse can trot, when the occasion calls for it. “Lie, lie, and lie some more” is my motto. Offering a mea culpa is faintly ridiculous, to me. A sure sign of weakness and lack of self-belief — and effeteness, when coming from a bloke.
I take it this is irony?
Way to go, Brian! As I read your examples I had many flashbacks from years past of you uttering the word “But —” as you bored into the truth of the matter! lol
As for Gunther’s thoughts – is he joking? I have a very strong self-belief and have found immense strength (which is seen/recognised by others) by admitting my failings. Admitting those mistakes has helped me move on with clarity, uncluttered by the past. I would argue that The Truth is always subjective and I just have to find my own. Lying seems a rather weird way of doing that – very connected to a ‘slippery hold of the truth’ I would suggest.
Way to go, Brian! As I read your examples I had many flashbacks from years past of you uttering the word “But —” as you bored into the truth of the matter!
It was Judy’s post actually. But I’m in absolute agreement. The thing about being straightforward, telling the truth and admitting your mistakes is that it’s also the best PR advice you can give.
Perhaps you could explain this to the legal profession who regard any admission of fault as a signal to sue. I recall a few years ago that the Probation Service cocked something up and admitted publicly that it could have done better. This was immediately followed by a lawyer who said that this admission gave the victims grounds to sue. I also attended a seminar on medical malpractice where one speaker urged DHBs and the mediacl profession not to apologise for their mistakes since this would be construed as an admission of liability and the insurers would not cough up!
It is hardly an incentive to tell the truth.
Yes, the legal eagles are dead opposed to even small concessions. However, unless there’s a real chance of repercussions, we believe one should always consider making them. Even an expression of empathy can work well: ‘I can understand that people are upset by this. I would be too…’ ‘I know this doesn’t look good, but…’ It’s the flat denials that get on people’s nerve, so this can be effective.
Thinking on the fly here, I think that many of today’s politicians grew up in an era of communication by telephone and paper where you could deny your way out of trouble because the paper trail could always be lost and very few phone calls were taped.
Nowadays, as they say “The internet never forgets” and neither do cellphones. If you’ve sent someone a silly text or e-mail or anything online then it is almost always retrievable.
When Gen X-ers and Y-ers get the reins of power will they be more sensible and not try and deny something that they know is true because they know how easily they can be found out? Or is denying in the face of the obvious and against the best advice ingrained in human nature.
Or is denying in the face of the obvious and against the best advice ingrained in human nature.
I think it’s more a case of fear. We learn as children that admitting stuff can get you into trouble, and the old habits kick in when we’re cornered. I’ve got great faith in Gen X and Y. They’re pretty darned smart. That smart? Who knows. Maybe their parents weren’t as scary as ours were.
An essential about lying is to have a perfect memory.
An essential about lying is to have a perfect memory.
How true! And how liberating to go into an interview knowing you have nothing to hide.
I’d argue it’s not flat denials that upset people so much as forms of ‘non-apology apology’ like these. It sounds good but as a way of admitting mistakes it’s a poor substitute.
Love it! I should perhaps have added that insincerity doesn’t work. If you don’t mean it, don’t say it. We’re all too good at body language these days.