Mastering Disaster—The “Damage Control” Mindset
Posted on December 9, 2012
Whether personal, economic or legal, any kind of crisis strains our brains. Our thinking is wrecked, our emotions frazzled. Panic sets in.
Among the worst are those crises that threaten our credibility and our trust among those we need – our family, our friends, and often our clients in professional life.
How do we keep our heads when those around us may be losing theirs? How do we restore waning trust when a crisis erupts?
First among damage control principles is “Do no harm.” We must counter our tendency to cover up our mistakes. Instead, come clean. As any student of presidential history knows, the cover up is always worse than the crime.
To avoid cover up, the authors tell us to accept responsibility right out of the gate. Do not blame others. Do not just spin the favorable facts while ignoring the damaging details. It will come back to bite you. Coming clean is the only way to stay ahead of the story.
Second, we must resist the impulse to take it personally. Crisis management and damage control are strictly business. This requires mental toughness and commitment to preparation. In other words, be disciplined in your response. Keep the long view in mind. It may take many small, measured steps to reveal the truth and restore credibility.
Credibility is our third damage control principle. It is king of damage control. We must manage both the flow of information and the expectations of all interested parties. But above all, our information must be accurate.
With these three principles in mind – no harm, discipline and credibility – we can follow what the authors call “The Ten Commandments of Damage Control” –
1. Provide full disclosure – everything that can come out, will come out. Be first. Stay ahead.
2. Speak to your core audience – focus on those whose trust must be restored. Speak to their concerns. But never pander.
3. Don’t feed the fire with knee-jerk reactions in the heat of the moment. Instead, tell them you are committed to finding out the truth, owning it, and fixing the problem.
4. Details matter – know them cold. One minor misstep on details can be easily magnified.
5. Hold your head high.
6. Tell the truth about what you know, what you don’t know, and what you’re going to do to remedy things.
7. Respond with force by keeping your message simple, repeating it, and speaking to the ones who need to hear from you.
8. First in, first out: once you know the details, get your story out there quickly and candidly. But know when you must hold back.
9. Keep your hands clean when putting your story out there. In other words, no “swiftboating” the opposition. You may need to expose your opposition’s real agenda.
10. Always protect your reputation. If the other side goes after it by spreading lies and misinformation about you, then hit them hard. Reveal their underhandedness and falsifications. But, again, be certain you’ve got all the facts. If you aim to destroy, make sure you’ve got them dead to rights. Otherwise, a backfire could be disastrous for you.
These commandments serve us best as principles, not hard-and-fast rules. They are guides, not prescriptions. Exceptions can swallow rules too easily in this highly contextual, fluid world of crisis management. The three reigning principles keep us in check – do no harm, don’t take it personally, and always maintain your credibility. These will help you through the crises.
And make no mistake: we will all face our own crisis soon enough, and many times over, most likely, in our professional and personal lives. Lehane and Fabiani teach us to meet the crises of our lives. Their principles may even help us become “masters of disaster” in damage control.