In honor of the 2014 Snowpocalypse that is occuring, I will share with you the biggest crisis communication issue that has occurred in my life thus far, and involves a fateful day in Winter 2008 where I totaled our family’s Jeep Grand Cherokee. This was also our only vehicle equipped with 4-wheel drive, and therefore our only means of transportation during the annual spout of especially inclement weather. You can imagine how peeved my entire family was with me…
Following a week-long snowstorm in Portland, the roads looked relatively clear. My parents warned me of the black ice that was still on the streets and told me not to drive. I cannot even begin to stress how much I wish I would have listened. But in an attempt to be responsible, I went against their wishes and drove a friend who was under the influence. End result: I wrapped my beloved first car around a tree in our neighborhood.
The details of what happened are unimportant, such as the fact that I could have called a cab for my friend, but what needs to be noted is how I handled the situation after it occurred. Luckily neither my friend nor I were injured, but rather than tell my parents that I had made a mistake, apologize and admit to my wrongdoing, I tried to lie about the incident.
Needless to say, they found out what had happened – I think the pine needles littered across the roof and tree bark embedded in the paint may have given me away – and they were extremely disappointed in my integrity following the incident. My attempt to hide what had happened deteriorated a lot of the trust that I had built up in my trust bank. And it took me a very long time to rebuild what I had lost.
But what it taught me was a very important life lesson: the importance of honesty.
Ethics lie at the heart of public relations: good relationships come from establishing and maintaining trust. And although there are varying degrees of truthfulness – and the situation can dictate the amount of information necessary to disclose – there is never room for deception. Deception is an intentional act to mislead. And when I crashed my car and attempted to get away with it, I was intentionally trying to deceive my parents.
It is difficult to admit when you are wrong, or fess up to your involvement in a sticky situation. But it is far more rewarding and honorable to face the problem straight on rather than trying to disguise it. Almost always the truth will come out, and people are far less forgiving when you blatantly lie. So admit to the situation, show remorse, and apologize – and mean it.
It wouldn’t be reality if bad things never happened. But it is important to be honest when these inevitable and far-from-ideal situations occur. If you’re in need of a refresher – which I think is important from time to time – see the PRSA Code of Ethics for a list of values to strive towards.