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DEFAMATION

TOP 10 Guiding Principles of Negative Communications That Result In Image and Reputation Damage

TASA ID: 2156

In its simplest definition, defamation is defined as “the action of damaging the good reputation of someone.”  Defamation results from some form of negative communications, whether written (libel) or verbal (slander).  Negative communications are extremely powerful and in most instances, difficult to counter or overcome – mainly because of human nature and psychology.   When some person, business or entity is defamed, there are factors that come into play that generally are irreversible.  To fully understand how defamation impacts the image and reputation of the recipient, it is important to know some guiding principles of negative communications:

• It can take a lifetime to build a reputation but only seconds to destroy it.

• You can’t “un-ring a bell.”  Once someone has absorbed negative information, it can’t be “erased” from their mind.

• Where there is smoke, there is fire.  When there is a negative impression about something, some people will always believe it even if that impression is proven false. Once “seeds of doubt” are planted, the “entity” in question becomes “damaged goods” and subject to suspicion.  You can never wipe the slate clean.

• “Perception is more important than reality and often dictates the reality.”  This is often true, especially as it relates to opinions, impressions, judgments, that people make of a person, entity or subject in terms of how they view them.  Further, in terms of public opinion, the perception will often obscure facts and create a totally different impression.

• People will generally believe something to be true if it is seems plausible and there is no other counterbalancing input that refutes or challenges that information. Also, often, even if a dissenting view to negative information is received, there could be an element of doubt if the person has accepted the negative view, the new information will be filtered through the initial negative input and there may not be a “clean slate” for reconsideration.

• In a situation where someone is making a choice (e.g., selecting something) if there is both equally positive and negative input on a particular option, many would take the conservative approach (e.g., not take a chance) and go with another choice.

• Negative information when spread by “word of mouth” is particularly damaging because the information can change from one person to another, be misinterpreted or embellished upon which often can distort or escalate the negativity from the original message.

• When negative information is spread in a “non-controlled” means without boundaries in terms of who has access to it, it is impossible to ensure that a “counter message” reaches everyone who received the original negative message.

• Similarly, there is often no end to the dissemination of negative information in terms of time or sometimes reach (e.g., the internet), it can spread and go on forever and follow a person, company, etc. to the end of their career/business.

• Defamation is particularly harmful to professionals, a person’s image and reputation is often more important in selecting one’s services than experience, credentials or achievements.  Many select professionals on the basis of character (e.g., “Character Counts”).  Perceived personal misbehavior might trump competence in selection process. 

These do not encompass the full scope of principles which generally dictate the negative consequences emanating from defamation but they represent an overview of the process of how the recipient can be severely harmed as a result of negative communications.  The “bottom line” is this, once defamation occurs to an image or reputation, nothing can restore it completely to its original state.  

The author is the president of his company and is a veteran communications professional with nearly 50 years of experience in public relations, marketing advertising and journalism.  He has served as an expert witness, on behalf of both plaintiffs and defendants in 15 defamation cases throughout the United States.

This article discusses issues of general interest and does not give any specific legal or business advice pertaining to any specific circumstances.  Before acting upon any of its information, you should obtain appropriate advice from a lawyer or other qualified professional.

This article may not be duplicated, altered, distributed, saved, incorporated into another document or website, or otherwise modified without the permission of TASA. Contact marketing@tasanet.com for any questions.



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