Deplorable?  Really?  (A Brief Management Lesson)

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me

–          Children’s rhyme

Beware where you aim your remarks.  You may hit unintended targets.

Perhaps the most staggering moment of the current political season happened this week when Hillary Clinton declared HALF of the support behind Donald Trump as “deplorable.”  Her words were compelling:

You could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables

What made her comments all the more intriguing is that they were cheered by those in attendance, and it was only after the fundraising was complete that she took a very timid retreat from the comment.

ABC News reported Mrs. Clinton’s comments in full:

You know, just to be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people, now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric. Now some of those folks, they are irredeemable. But thankfully they are not America.

Up until now, Mrs. Clinton had been labeled as the adult in the room.  While Mr. Trump had labeled his opponents in a host of unsavory ways (Lyin’ Ted, Little Marco, Crooked Hillary, etc.), he took great pains not to label their supporters.

Mrs. Clinton chose to lash out not at her opponent, but at 11-million Americans this week.  11-million of the people she will represent as president (if elected) were summarily dismissed as “deplorable.”  And when she walked it back, she only scaled back the numbers, not the rhetoric:

I regret saying “half”, she offered.  That was wrong.

My mother was one of those moms who said to be careful where you point your finger, as there are always more fingers pointing back at you.   As managers and professionals, we often rely on alliances that we’d rather not forge for the sake of getting the job done.  We should take Mrs. Clinton’s deep dive into hurtful speech as a valuable lesson learned.

We are often nudged (or even encouraged) to bash those who have viewpoints that are deleterious to our work.  The competing companies, the slacking vendors, the challenging customers are characterized in dark ways in hopes of creating an environment where “misery loves company”.  The hope is that there will be a large enough body of those who concur to create a groundswell of negativism against these parties.  That’s not how the professional day is won.

What can we learn and how can we apply it?

There are three primary lessons to be taken away from this week’s events:

1)      When you apologize?  Go full tilt

2)      If you’re feeling offended, then go after the offending party

3)      Ideally, win hearts, rather than lancing them

The “Full-Tilt” Apology

I’ve watched my children grow up in an environment where apologies are parsed and where I’m Sorry doesn’t necessarily signify regret for the act.  If we should be caught lashing out at co-workers, clients, vendors, partners or team members, we need to take full ownership of what was said.

Being caught in an unpleasant statement is only made worse by half-apologies.  And the unpleasant statement only has fertile soil in which to grow.  The clearest evidence?  Within 48 hours of Mrs. Clinton’s remark, the new website (NOT affiliated with Mr. Trump or his campaign) went on-line, marketing promotional paraphernalia highlighting her remark.  A full-throated renunciation of her own remarks might have squelched this kind of activity, or at least minimized its impact.

Chasing the Right Party

If you can’t stand a particular player in your business environment, and can’t just ‘let it go’, go after him.  Go after her!  But don’t go after their company, their staff, their personnel, or their clients.  Criticism is best offered directly to the offending party.  Painting the entire culture with a broad brush creates enemies, not support.

Win Hearts

Bashing, labeling and embarrassing others never wins hearts.  It’s bullying.  I should know.  I was bullied a lot in high school.  Who saved me?  My sister.  How?  She won (and to this day, wins) hearts.  The old biblical adage that “a soft answer turneth away wrath” was among her credos.  The only person, in fact, that ever outdid my sister at winning hearts was Mr. Rogers.

For those who have never seen the children’s television star, Mr. Rogers was the single most positive, uplifting human being I ever had the honor to meet.  While working as the news director of WASH-FM in Washington, DC, I got to spend almost an hour interviewing Mr. Rogers.  Virtually everyone I know who finds out that I chatted at length with him is downright envious of my experience.  Why?  Because Fred Rogers was inclusive.  He welcomed everyone.  He was positive.  His message went out with the belief that every person has merit and every person has something to contribute.

If you want to truly get your message across, and succeed in virtually any business situation, the message of positive inclusion is a powerful alternative to vitriol and ill will.

Are there people who engage in deplorable behaviors in the world?  Absolutely.  Our “higher selves” should be trying to find ways to show them there’s a better, more positive way to approach our professional and personal lives.

Carl Pritchard welcomes your comments at carl(at)