Raise Your Hand if You've Done Something Stupid
Everybody has their hands up, right? Ok, put them down.
Now, raise your hand if you've done something stupid... and then made it worse. Yep, we've all been there too.
Lately we've seen some high-profile instances in the news of people doing something stupid, then making it worse and thus continuing the story. [I'm not going into specifics because a) it's not necessary to throw people under the bus to make a point, and b) they have enough problems without being called out again. So use your imagination and apply the following to whatever story you think it references. Unfortunately for all of us, there isn't just one story that this applies to.]
Hopefully your "something stupid" did not play out in public or in the media. But whether public or relatively private, a good knowledge of basic crisis communication strategies can serve anyone well.
So what's the secret to managing a crisis and not making it worse? 9 times out of 10 the trick is to CLOSE YOUR MOUTH. Ignore the instinct to deny. Slap your own hand down when you feel the urge to point at someone else.
Step 1: Get out of the spotlight (whether real or metaphorical). Leave the room. Do NOT answer the phone. If you're being asked a direct question, "I have no comment at this time" is a perfectly acceptable answer.
Step 2: Regroup with someone knowledgeable and trustworthy. This might be your lawyer, a media relations person in your company, or your communications director. Together, deal with the problem. Figure out the facts and put together talking points. Figure out how to fix the original problem, if you can.
Step 3: If the story hasn't become public yet, inform anybody who has to know ahead of time. If a company problem, this might be your employees or your management team. If a personal issue, this would likely be your family. Let them know what happened and what you're going to do about it. [Here's a delicate issue... depending on the situation, sometimes it's a good idea to disclose only as much information as you want made public -- even to your family. You can go into greater detail with your inner circle later, but in a crisis situation, assume whatever you say (except maybe to your lawyer or therapist or someone who is similarly legally prohibited from sharing) could become public knowledge. This could save you from additional problems if extra information is intentionally or accidentally disclosed by someone you chose to trust.]
Step 4: When you are prepared, release your statement. This can be in written form, or delivered in person by you or a spokesperson. How to release a statement -- and even IF to make a statement -- depends on multiple factors, so there are not hard and fast rules about which is better. Each situation is different. If in person, be prepared for questions to be asked, whether you intend to answer them or not. If you have decided not to answer impromptu questions ahead of time, do not give in to the temptation to spontaneously engage with a reporter. It never ends well -- for you, anyway. For news outlets those unscripted, off the cuff moments can drive a lot of traffic.
No matter how you make the statement, do not lie. Let me repeat that for emphasis... do not lie. Do. Not. Lie. The truth always has a way of coming out, and lying will damage your credibility, on top of whatever question is being cast onto your judgement or character.
Step 5. Apologize, if necessary.
Step 6. Repeat steps 2, 3, 4 and 5 as needed.
Step 7: Learn from your mistake and don't do it again.
Sometimes one go around will be enough, and the story will be over. Or another story will come up and take the attention off of you. Because we're all human, and at one time or another we've all done something stupid.