Politically Correct

By Scott Westerman
“Being Politically Correct means always having to say you’re sorry.” – Charles Osgood

Nothing torpedoes a career these days like being politically incorrect. Unfortunately, its definition has become so broad that whatever you say, and how you say it, is certain to offend somebody.

Juan Williams is the latest to be caught in the vortex of our hyper-sensitivity to offense, but people are hit with the political correctness baseball bat every day, all across the country.

As your personal brand becomes more prominent, your words and the style in which you express them will be second-guessed. For every person who may congratulate you on a presentation, there will be others who will tell you that you weren’t funny, you didn’t inspire or (worst of all), you offended them.

Make any decision and some who don’t like it may assume you have an unfair prejudice.

That’s life.

When we’ve suffered, our sensitivity to its causal forces is heightened. This is the basis for our own personal biases. We all have em. And we’re all afraid that they might show… and disqualify our pursuit of the American Dream.

We live in a world that’s filled with bias, prejudice, secret agendas, distrust, anger and fear. So how do you say -anything- these days and not get into trouble?

The truth is, you can’t. But here are some ideas to help you maximize the effectiveness of your message, while minimizing unnecessary distractions.

1) Walk in the other person’s shoes – How would you feel if you heard your words? Think about your audience and try to speak to their hearts.

2) Be positive – Avoid terms that diminish or devalue.

3) Be compassionate – Understand that your biggest detractors have a story that causes them to think and act as they do. At one time, we were all helpless kids. Many of us still are.

3) Be honest – This can be risky but, as Edward R. Murrow said, “To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; credible we must be truthful.”

4) Seek feedback – Be a good listener. There is value hidden in vitriol. Integrate what is useful and discard the rest.

5) Be willing to debate, discuss and have an opinion – The best ideas are born in vigorous conversation. Physicist Brian Green writes, “The boldness of asking deep questions may require unforeseen flexibility if we are to accept the answers.” Sell your ideas but be open to other viewpoints. The best solutions are often collaborative.

5) Be true to who you are – Don’t be afraid to be yourself. We get into the most trouble when we try to be something or someone we are not. Your authentic self is constantly evolving. Nurture it, teach it, listen to it, hold it accountable, forgive it, love it.

And.. If you treat others with that same firm sensitivity, fear is more likely to evaporate, you will build trust, political correctness will rarely be an issue and true progress will inevitably ensue.

4 Replies to “Politically Correct”

  1. Scott,

    Excellent advice to start the week!

    I think the Juan Williams situation points to how one must be careful with this “personal brand” stuff. As I understand it, he was a straight news reporter on NPR and more of a commentator on Fox. He said something that deeply offended his main employer, NPR, but was perfectly acceptable on Fox.

    The problem with seeing yourself as a personal brand in the world of journalism is that sometimes you end up thinking you’re bigger than the institutions you serve. And that’s a dangerous thing, as Juan Williams found out.

    Just my two cents!

  2. I agree! Now what about the other side? I feel you did an excellent job of how to present your idea, now how should be people react to what they hear? In the case of Juan Williams I feel when listening to the entire conversation he had hit almost all your points. I think there was a failuer on the part of those who did not agree who said as did the ladies on the view I do not agree with what you said and I will not listen to your point of view. I ask you how should folks react to what they hear and do not agree with.

    Love your Stuff

  3. Beautifully painted on the conversational canvass my friend. (Excuse the alliteration). In the recent flap over Dr. Laura’s “N word” comments, she totally missed the point. Over 200 years of valiantly fighting for rights denied, and the history of what that hurtful word meant shouldn’t be regarded flippantly. Anyone who suggests “get over it” lacks both compassion and a sense of history. When it comes to specific comments that demean another person or group, taking care to weigh your words has less to do with political correctness and more to do with common decency.

  4. Well said. With one week before the election and political ads everywhere, and how impossible it is to talk about ANYTHING that even resembles something that might be a headline on Fox and/or MSNBC, these are good tips.

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