I am Not a Crook: How to Message Tough Situations
“I am not a crook,” Richard Nixon said in relation to the Watergate scandal in 1973. It was a short, declarative sentence – perfect for a sound byte. The only problem was that it was perceived as so disingenuous that the sentence began to represent exactly what Nixon was purporting not to be: a crook.
As communicators, it’s important to remember how to steer our clients away from these easy pitfalls through positive messaging that doesn’t reinforce our pre-conceived notions. In this case and many others like it (i.e. Bill Clinton in 1998: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”), Nixon only told people what he wasn’t – not what he was. He could have avoided this historical faux pas by taking the opportunity to say what he was doing, defining his values, and reflecting the values of his target audience – the American people.
In this particular case, Nixon’s negative frame is easy to spot. In other cases, negative messaging traps can be more subtle and, therefore, harder to find. Below, I’ve outlined a couple of examples of how to turn a negative message into a positive one as a class in Positive Frames 101.
And thus completes your first lesson in Positive Frames 101. Now that you’ve learned a few pivoting tricks, you’ll start to see these pitfalls in everyday conversation. Notice them, and think about how you would reframe. Stay tuned for Positive Frames 102.