When everything goes terribly (and publicly) wrong, is there any way to achieve reputation redemption?
Some would say that our reputation and our virginity are two things we can never regain. But hold on — this is in America, where condemnation come very fast, but within a 24 hour news cycle your sins are likely to be, if not forgiven, certainly forgotten almost as quickly as they were dredged up. However, even with the short attention spans of the public, once your reputation is gone, it’s very very difficult to restore it. That being said, it CAN be done!
Whether you’re an individual or an organization, let’s take a moment and examine a way you can harness the power of “critical moments”. This is a powerful way to not only right your wrongs, but also reshape your image.
For this article, I interviewed Bill Coletti. He is a reputation management, crisis communications and professional development expert and best-selling author of Critical Moments: The New Mindset of Reputation Management.
He has more than 25 years of global experience managing high-stakes crises, issues management, and media relations challenges for both Fortune 500 companies and winning global political campaigns.
Bill clients have included AT&T, American Airlines, Xerox, Nuclear Energy Institute, Home Depot, American Express, Target, Freeport MacMoRan, as well major universities and global NGOs.
Refine Your Leadership
Bill shares that the “crucible of crisis” doesn’t just develop your leadership, but rather, it refines it! As we pass through anything exceptionally difficult, embarrassing, or cringeworthy, we can be tempted to shift blame, hide in the shadows, or aggressively resist showing remorse. On the other hand, we can respond with humility, accept responsibility, or otherwise act in ways that will enable us to heal and move forward.
In this interview I had to know (and imagine you’re wondering too) — isn’t the job of fixing a reputation really just being a “spin doctor”? Anyone can blow smoke and redirect attention, and it feels like a manipulative profession. Bill admits that those tactics can be (and often are) used, but he shares that his direction with a client is always transparency and vulnerability. He believes that telling the truth is what ultimately sets you free.
Avoid “Alternative Facts”
If your reputation has taken a blow and you begin to spin lies or create “alternative facts”, you won’t do yourself any long term favors. After all, a web of deception won’t hold forever. The sooner you can head things off by telling the truth, the sooner you can start to repair harm.
If you find yourself in a regrettable position that requires extra assistance to sort through, take a long hard look at who you bring in to the situation.
Remember, character is key.
A representative who is deceitful, shady, or manipulative will use deceitful tactics to minimize the mishap. While this may take pressure off in the moment, it will also prevent the issue from being fully dealt with. That leaves it to fester (and possibly implode) down the line.
Instead, look for a consultant or PR firm that operates with integrity, honesty, and care. They’ll want to take the high road (and encourage you to do the same), but they’ll still look for ways to soften the blow and ease the pain of the journey. And even though the process might feel harder, you’ll come out the other side with much less of a burden to carry!
Anyone can suffer damage to their reputation, and those who have genuinely understand how painful it is. Although nothing will take that pain away, knowing that you’ve come completely clean and ultimately come around to acting with integrity will help you redefine who you want to be as a leader going forward.
Avoid Aggressive Posturing
In our interview Bill and I also discussed the blowback of responding aggressively to being called out. Methods like “talk to the hand”, ignoring pushback, or even vociferously claiming you’ve done nothing wrong don’t tend to sit well with others. While there may be times to use these approaches (perhaps if you’ve been falsely accused or have nothing to apologize for), if you know you’re at fault, it’s best to steer clear of these methods.
The age we’re living in now is highly transparent.
In our time together Bill Coletti was very clear: People have expectations that they’ll be privy to insider information, inner workings, and intimate knowledge about you, your company, or anyone else that comes under fire during the course of any large incident. You’ll likely need to tip your hand and provide some of this information, especially if you’re sincere about coming clean.
A certain amount of transparency and openness is going to be necessary in order to move through this episode!
The Boomerang of History
Something else to keep in mind?
In our time together we spoke about how we are living in a time where reputation is not only fragile, but can be autopsied at a moments notice. Anyone of us can experience our history coming back like a fecal boomerang. We talked about how we may be judged by who we were during an incident, or even a phase of our lives that may be a poor representation of who we are in the present tense.
In a “swipe left” world we must remember to not judge a book by its cover, a single page, or even a chapter.
We’ve all had moments or periods of life in which we haven’t been all that we could be. Recognizing that we’ve failed, or that we have to change, isn’t a sign of permanent failure. In fact, we can absolutely redefine ourselves (and start a new chapter) when confronted with the reality that we’ve been someone we are no longer proud of being.
Ultimately, make every effort to take a holistic approach to repairing damage, both in regards to what you’ve caused, and what you’ve suffered.
Be willing to be transparent and honest.
Bill Coletti’s advise is direct on this: “Don’t create more lies as an “escape hatch” – they will come back to bite you”.
Do what you can to make amends, and ultimately prepare to move forward with the lessons you’ve learned.
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