Withholding the truth never helps

London, 15th November 2009 - In one sense it was reassuring that this summer’s big story, namely the release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds, remained in the headlines for so long. It suggested that the economic turbulence that has caused so many apocalyptic headlines this last year has at least started to pass, even if it is too soon to proclaim the end of the recession.

 

But it will also become an example of how not to communicate effectively. From the moment it emerged that al-Megrahi might be released on compassionate grounds as he approaches the end of his life, the powers that be have displayed an elementary lack of understanding of how best to communicate a sensitive situation. That’s surprising, given the hundreds of communications experts working within government.

 

The way in which Westminster denied involvement in the decision, denied any links with trade deals, denied conversations with Colonel Gaddafi simply didn’t ring true. Most of us accept that deals are done in the corridors of power. It’s how the world works. The sight and sound of the truth emerging just made everyone involved look dishonest and daft.

 

There is a clear lesson here for companies and individuals caught in a media frenzy. Cover-ups never work. The ‘bloodgate’ saga that has engulfed Rugby Union provides further proof. The truth will out. In my experience executives tend to become frozen in the headlights in the face of a media attack. They retreat to the bunker. What they need is sensible advice, even if that advice is unpalatable. Denial of a situation, or even a less than fully comprehensive response, will only make the storm worse. Best to be open, to be candid, and to accept that not everyone will like what you have to say. But at least they will respect you for saying it.