There’s a scene near the end of the movie Gosford Park, (Julian Fellowes’s precursor to Downton Abby), where the character of Mrs. Wilson, the housekeeper, explains what it is that “a good servant has that separates them” from the others:
“It’s the gift of anticipation…I know when they’ll be hungry, and the food is ready. I know when they’ll be tired, and the bed is turned down. I know it before they know it themselves.”
When serving your client, anticipation can be your best tool in avoiding a crisis. Always be thinking a couple of moves ahead to the consequences of your actions.
One would think that in this age of instant information everyone would understand the dangers of a public rant, an ill-tempered tweet, putting proprietary information in an email posting damaging photos on Facebook, and hitting “send” when the better option is “delete.” (Unless, of course, you’re running for President.)
Yet, one would be wrong.
Now, we’ve all failed to anticipate by sending snarky emails, posing for numbskull photos, losing patience with a rude clerk, or with a driver who hogs the passing lane at 45 mph.
It all seems harmless – until that email gets forwarded, that photo gets posted, or that outburst of temper is captured on a cellphone. Then, the world wants to know, “WHAT were you thinking?” The answer, of course, is an inexcusable, “I wasn’t.” And then you’re knee deep in crisis management.
For average citizens, the damage from such lapses can mean anything from the severing of friendships to the breakup of a marriage. Careers, too, can be in jeopardy, as well as any future employment.
For public officials and corporate CEOs, the damage can be irreparable politically and economically. (Remember the email hemorrhage at Sony?) Erosion of confidence in a leader’s judgment or ability to manage his or her impulses can affect everything from voter support to stock prices. In a minute-to-minute information cycle, continuous stories about an ill-considered outburst, an inappropriate photo, or an unfortunately worded email will always obliterate any other agenda, no matter how noble. Once that public conversation starts, it’s very difficult to change it.
For the public figure whether political or corporate – some rules to live by:
- Think before you pose, post, text, tweet or hit “send.”
- Think before you speak.
- Whether you see a camera or not, assume there is one.
- Assume someone on the conference call is recording it.
- Don’t leave a voicemail with anything other than your name & number.
- If you question what you’re about to say, do, or write – don’t do it. Take the time to get a second opinion from someone you trust to be honest with you.
- Don’t let anger get the best of you – especially in public. Be polite. Be calm. Make your points with intelligence and leadership, not a show of temper.
- Pick your battles.
- If you don’t want to see it in a headline, don’t say, do, write, post, or send it.
- Follow Mrs. Wilson’s example: anticipate what could go wrong.