“Do you want to win an argument or do you want this to go away?” I finally blurted this out to a client once years ago who had been falsely maligned by a former employee and wanted to clear his name. The legal matters had been resolved, news coverage of this issue had long since subsided and the issue was fading into peoples’ memory. Newer and more salacious matters were predictably taking its place in the public consciousness.

My client told me he had discovered some evidence that would discredit the former employee and clear his name. He wanted to tell his story. In actuality, the “evidence” he had found was far from smoking gun quality and frankly could have been viewed just as easily to further convict him as it would have served to exonerate him. At best, this new information would have clouded the issue and reminded people of the charges that were levied against him long ago.  

I get it. I value my reputation and my good name too. It strikes at my core to be falsely maligned. I want justice. I become emotional. I dream of a day when the world tells me I’m right and the other person was wrong. And then, I walk around the block. I take a long bike ride. I sleep on it. I recognize the high risk, high reward nature of what I’m contemplating and I decide (reluctantly) to rethink it.

Being in the center of a controversy can become personal and the emotion that comes with it can cloud anyone’s better judgement. For that reason, it’s always wise to seek counsel from someone who has experience dealing with such matters and who can be emotionally disconnected from your situation. The most important thing you can do before deciding when, how and whether to respond to a crisis is to become very clear about your ultimate goal.

In most cases, the goal is to preserve and protect a person’s or an organization’s reputation. In others, it may be to turn the tables on an adversary and put them on the defensive for purposes of negotiation or litigation. Sometimes an organization may just want to show its customers, employees or investors that it won’t be pushed around. Whatever the reason, make sure it’s one that will pay off for you in the long run.

In the case of my client, I was able to persuade him not to restart the controversy with his dubious new information and instead embark on the tedious task of rebuilding his reputation through a series of public actions that were in stark contrast to the behaviors he had been accused of. It wasn’t the immediate gratification he had once craved, but over time it eventually returned to him what he had lost and most desired to have back. His reputation.