Even Presidents Mess This Up

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A story just popped up at the top of Google News with the following headline: Bill Clinton on Hillary and wealth: ‘She’s not out of touch.’

Yikes.

Bill Clinton, former president of the United States and as experienced a media hand as you’ll find, had just made a rookie mistake. I listened to the video, which was a Meet the Press interview, and there was a palpable thud when he said it. As if everyone knew he’d slipped.

When answering questions, it’s imperative to never, ever repeat the negative. If someone calls you a jerk, do not respond by saying “I’m not a jerk.”

State the positive: “I’m a nice person.”

Why? When we repeat the negative we emphasize it. We make it real. We assure the everybody’s heard it, even those who have not.

In the case of President Clinton, the headline saying Hillary was not “out of touch” simply reminded voters that there was concern in some quarters that Mrs. Clinton was, indeed, out of touch. Instead, the president could simply have said, “She’s well in touch with ordinary Americans.” No bad headline would have come from that.

I’ve written about this before but wanted to use the Clinton headline to point out just how easy this is to do. After all, if a seasoned interview subject like President Clinton could mess this up, anyone could fall into this trap. And a trap it is.

The best way to avoid this is to be alert for it. If you are giving an interview and there are negatives abound, be aware of them and practice before you do your interview. You can write out the potential negative questions and script answers that do not repeat the negative allegations.

With a little practice, you can learn to avoid making this painful mistake.