It's the same old story. We've heard it over and over again. Person utters a reprehensible comment. Person tries to deny it: "They misquoted me" or "They took me out of context" or "It was inelegantly stated." And then the white-washing starts as supporters try to explain it away. And the American public doesn't buy it.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, own your mistakes right away. Apologize. Sincerely. You'll limit the damage and move back to that all-important task of building relationships. This is true for you and me just as much as it is true in the most recent case for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
On October 5, USA Today reported that Romney had finally issued a mea culpa for his infamous declaration negatively characterizing the 47% of the American public who would never vote for him. Specifically, he said: "Well, clearly in a campaign, with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question-and-answer sessions, now and then you're going to say something that doesn't come out right. In this case, I said something that's just completely wrong."
Congratulations Mitt. That acceptance of responsibility for what you said will go a long way toward putting the issue behind you. Too bad for you and all the surrogates who actually tried to put a positive spin on your comment that you didn't step up to the plate the day your speech to that donor group hit the news. You could have/would have saved yourself and them a lot of trouble.
Campaigning for president is difficult and done over a long period of time. Inevitably, poor choices of words or bumbling explanations or outright wrong comments will be made. When that happens, the candidate can do him or herself an immense favor. Acknowledge what was said, accept responsibility for it and apologize. The story will disappear from the headlines quickly, and damage will be limited. Deny it, try to explain it away, or blame others for it and the story will gain traction and hurt far more than it ever should have.
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About the author
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."