Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Flubbing The Story: 10 Communication Mistakes We All Make (Part 3)

10) Not telling your stories with intention.

Before you begin speaking, over-ride the compulsion to blurt out your story.

What is the intention of your story?
Why are you going to tell this story?
Will anyone who listens to this story be hurt by what you say?

You might think that it's not that important to communicate exactly what you mean but remember December 2002? Quite often someone tells a story and they haven't thought about who they are telling the story to or how it might easily be misinterpreted to mean something else.

Trent Lott, A Mississippi Republican got himself stuck in a public relations nightmare and gave up the dream of a lifetime in December of 2002. Destined to become the House Majority Leader in January of 2003, he made a critical mistake that everyone should be attentive to and learn from.

Speaking at a party honoring Senator Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday, he opened Pandora's box and never knew what his words of appreciation for the elderly Senator would do. The drama of misunderstood words caused even the President of The United States to distance himself from Lott.

Speaking for the President, Ari Fleischer said after one speech that Bush was not calling for Lott to step aside as Leader or as Senator.

"The president does not think that Sen. Lott needs to resign," Fleischer said.

The problem? Thurmond, the South Carolina Republican who ran as a third-party candidate for president in 1948 as a segregationist had changed his views over the ensuing 50 years of public service. But the comments by Lott made it appear that Lott was still in favor of them. In 1948 most blacks in many southern U.S. states, including Mississippi, were not allowed to vote.

Lott actually didn't say anything that was racist but the interpretation by his adversaries was easy to spin into the public mind. Shortly after the speech, Lott called Bush, and his office issued a statement saying the president was right.

"Senator Lott agrees with President Bush that his words were wrong and he is sorry," said Lott spokesman Ron Bonjean. "He repudiates segregation because it is immoral."

Lott expressed similar sentiments in his call to Bush, Fleischer said.

So just what did Lott say at the Thurmond celebration?

"We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over the years,"

Later he would have to clarify what he meant but it was too late, he hadn't thought through how is words might effect the minds of his greatest adversaries.

"I'm sorry for my words," said Lott, who has said he would not step aside as Senate Republican leader. Speaking to WABC radio in New York and then on BET days later, Lott said he had wanted to honor "Thurmond the man" but not back segregationist policies.

The Congressional Black Caucus called for a formal censure of Lott, saying anything less would be seen as approval of his remarks by Bush, Congress and the Republican party. In Mississippi, civil rights officials said his apology was insufficient, and accused him of having enduring ties to groups that are believed to have racist views. Several major U.S. newspapers published editorials demanding Republicans reject Lott as their Senate leader.

A few misunderstood words caused Lott his reputation and drove many of those closest to him to leave his side.

What is the lesson learned?

Lesson: When telling your stories, think about how they will be received by your listeners and the people your listeners will talk to. You aren't likely to ever be under media scrutiny like a political leader, but the point is clear. Think before speaking.

In a conversation with friends, business colleagues and the like you will often hear them say something which frustrates you. You will hear things that you don't understand. Because you really want to know what the person means and feels, you must learn to tease out the intention.

Did they mean what you thought they just said?
Did they mean what you heard?

In Lott's case a friend might say to the Senator, "So are you saying you liked the way Thurmond thought about segregation in 1948."

He might reply, "Of course not. What a stupid thought. I meant that I really admire Thurmond."

It is that simple and difficult. When you don't understand their story, seek to understand before criticizing the person!

More Articles on

No comments: