“I am not a bully” and how to avoid incriminating yourself

In January of this year, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie held a two-hour long press conference explaining his involvement — or lack there of — in the “Bridgegate” scandal. 

While the Governor’s focus was to emphasize that he knew nothing about the scandal, questions turned towards the governor’s temperament — as they often do. Reporters asked him, “Are you a bully?”

By most accounts, Christie handled the press conference well, but his response to that one question became the focus of the USA Today Weekend front-page story. The headline read, “I am not a bully.”

There have been many memorable quotes over the years of famous folks declaring what they aren’t:

  • “I’m not a liar.”
  • “I’m not a crook.”
  • “I don’t beat my wife.”
  • “I’m not a witch.” (My all-time favorite.)

These quotes, of course, were responses to accusations. But saying what you aren’t is a horrible idea.

In addition to the public automatically believing you are guilty of what you’re saying you aren’t, the quote becomes memorable and cemented in people’s minds whether you are truly guilty or not. The quote becomes the story.

You can’t avoid acknowledging accusations, but can control your response. The best way to handle negative accusations? Craft the negative statement into something true or positive about you, your organization or your position.

While you can’t change the question, you have the power to change the narrative.

If Governor Christie would have rephrased the negative question and responded with, “I treat all my staff with respect,” the front-page story may have been focused on the actual scandal, which was Bridgegate.

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