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If there was a surefire way to stay out of trouble, would you take it? Of course you would. So why do we see the same stumbles again and again in public life? I was reminded of these oft-repeated mistakes during a recent episode involving a senior leader with the Houston Astros. You’d think a pro baseball organization, which is in the business of appealing to a broad cross-section of people – from little kids to grandparents – would know how to navigate around an inappropriate episode involving one of its executives. Nope. Instead the Astros made the same series of errors you see way too many times.

First, a quick re-cap of the episode: During a post-game celebration one of the team’s senior leaders went out-of-his-way to scream his support for a member of team who had famously been suspended from baseball for a domestic violence issue. He yelled his support to a group of female reporters. One of those reporters was wearing a bracelet in support of domestic violence victims. Got it? What followed was the same script followed by many unsuccessful public entities. It goes like this:

Deny – Instead of doing a thorough investigation into what happened, the Astros seemed to just take the word of their exec and generally denied the episode occurred the way it had been reported. Can you feel yourself sliding down a slippery slope?

Attack – Then, to make matters worse, they attacked the credibility of the reporter who raised the issue in the first place. A statement was issued by the team saying the reporter fabricated the story. Okay, now we’re in a full slide down that slope!

Sort of Apologize – Then, as time passed, the team released a statement saying the executive’s comments were “unprofessional and inappropriate.” Major League Baseball got involved and pretty soon it became painfully clear that the original reporting was far more accurate than any of the team’s later explanations. So, at long last, we get to the bottom of the slope. This is the part where someone pays for the sins committed.

ACTUALLY apologize and fire the offending party – Five days after the original incident – five days of damage while the team on the field was playing in the World Series, by the way – the team finally fired the executive and said the words they never should have had to use: “We were wrong.”

This exact same sequence – Deny/Attack/Sort of Apologize and then finally Do the Right Thing, has been repeated so often you can almost see it coming. Why? I think there is an inability to recognize a serious situation when it presents itself, arrogance, ignorance and/or an assumption that those close to us won’t lie to us when, yes, they very well might.

To avoid the issue, fight the tendency to close the circle in a crisis. Instead, broaden the circle. You may have a blind spot and it could be your downfall. Also, prep for crisis situations. What are your emergency response resources? Who can you call for help? In short, plan for the fire long before it starts.


Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting, www.clear-comm.net, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: cary@clear-comm.net.