Communication Works

LETTERMAN did and RODNEY did; why you should say SORRY when you stuff up!

As communication professionals we are always aware of the many and varied ways in which ‘perception' contributes to the way in which one's message is received. Yes, you‘ve heard it before, but it's still true: perception is everything. So recently we (like you) were more than a little surprised to learn that Mr Walk the Talk Rodney Hide (Minister for Local Government) turned out to be "not a martyr" and not averse to taking his girlfriend on a tax-payer funded, fact finding mission to the UK and North America.

Had Rodney lost his head in the Rumba? Had he gone completely Cha-Cha-Cha? Actually, Rodney hadn't even broken the rules surrounding MPs' travel perks; technically speaking he was entitled to make his claim for a 90 percent fare discount.

So ... why the tangled Tango? In a word, congruence! Rodney's actions didn't match his rhetoric, and as a result he suffered a major loss of credibility which threatened to infect both his party and the government. In other words, he now faced a crisis communication situation where his response would either further erode his image, or as a best case scenario, contain the damage.

Luckily for Rodney, he either understands how to put out a fire or he's getting good advice. Communication theorists who study crisis communication have documented and critiqued a range of image restoration strategies which are employed when a high profile individual's behaviour is challenged or attacked. In our increasingly mediated digital world, the management of image for high profile individuals in politics, the news media and business, not to mention the organisations which these individuals represent, has become one of the hottest research areas.

William Benoit's (1995) theory of image restoration discourse, suggests that by taking corrective action and expressing ‘mortification' (i.e. I stuffed up and I am so sorry) the accused,  demonstrates that he/she acknowledges the wrong doing, says sorry for the effects, and does whatever it takes to make it right. As a result, the damage to one's reputation is stalled, and there is even a chance one's reputation may be enhanced or improved.

Rodney, unlike so many others who ‘stuff-up', got this right. He acknowledged that he had "got carried away by being a minister". More importantly, he apologised and paid back the money. It's difficult to bag someone who appears genuine about the mistake. If only more politicians, public and business leaders would realise that when a mistake is made (inadvertently or deliberately), in order to retain their credibility and restore the image and reputation of their organisation, they need to follow these steps: admit it, apologise for it and make it right!

 Written by Desiree Williamson




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