Posts Tagged ‘“going off message”’

Unspoken Thoughts Clamoring to Be Heard

August 2, 2012

In the course of every day, there are so many things you think but don’t say. Sometimes those thoughts come at work. Other times they hit you when you’re walking down the street, sitting in a restaurant or riding the bus.

I have many unspoken thoughts on the subway.

This morning I asked a young man who was sitting with legs splayed apart so he took up two seats, “Could you make room for me to sit down?” and got no reaction except a sullen and challenging stare.   My thoughts: “Who do you think you are? Sharing was something you were supposed to learn in kindergarten, you oaf!”

Standing in front of a mother with a very young child (both of whom were seated on a train that was packed to the gills), I thought, “The MTA gives free seats for young children because they can sit on their parents’ laps when the train gets crowded.  So why is your little princess taking up a seat, lady, when you could let that elderly man over there sit down?”

Then there are the sights you see on the streets of midtown Manhattan that make you say to yourself, but only to yourself, “That man grabbed the cab right out from under the guy who was about to hop in!” and “That woman came an inch from being hit by a car in the crosswalk, but thanks to her cellphone conversation she didn’t even realize it!” and “Oo la la, what a hunk he is!”

In an office building, as you’re waiting on line to get through security so you can go up to your meeting, you think but don’t say: “Six terrorists just cut the line and dashed for the elevator, but the security people are too busy asking for a photo IDs [which even terrorists have]!”

Like me, I’m sure you’ve had unspoken thoughts that reverberate so loudly inside your head, you wonder if the people around you heard them.

It would be great if we could articulate those thoughts without unpleasant consequences.  Sometimes I wish afterwards that I’d said what I was thinking.  But most of the time, it’s just as well that I kept quiet.

If you’ve read recent news stories about the Presidential campaign, you can see the consequences of not keeping unspoken thoughts quiet.

For example, Mitt Romney got himself into hot water with some remarks he made in Europe that would have been better (for him) if left unsaid. In London, he criticized the organization behind the London Olympics, which so annoyed the Prime Minister that he commented, “Of course, it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere” (a public crack about Mr. Romney’s own history as head of the Salt Lake City Olympics).

While in Poland, Rick Gorka, the traveling press secretary with Mr. Romney’s campaign, told the traveling American press corps who were shouting out questions for Romney (who was ignoring them) “Why don’t you kiss my ass?” Gawker writer Louis Peitzman quipped, “[Gorka] ended the argument with the always effective, ‘Why don’t you shove it?’”

The consequences in both these situations were the appearance of media stories that focused on the ill-considered remarks, rather than on the messages the Romney campaign wanted to communicate. That’s what happens when you speak what’s on your mind without carefully considering what you’re saying.

We public relations specialists call this “going off message.” It can happen to anyone, but media training helps a lot in preventing it. Media training helps you focus on the key messages you need to get across, and teaches you how to avoid making regrettable gaffes.  The training gives you practice in answering questions from reporters, and helps you build confidence in yourself while avoiding being overconfident.

Lucy Siegel

Get Lucy Siegel’s book at Amazon for 99 cents:  “Public Relations Around the Globe: A Window on International Business Culture”


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