The Lady Does Protest Too Much

You might have read Hamlet. Perhaps unwillingly in high school English, perhaps for pleasure since it’s one of the greatest dramatic works in the English language. At one point Gertrude says “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Tiger Woods Photo by Paddy Briggs

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That line has been used as a figure of speech ever since (and since 1602 means for a long time) to mean that a person’s overly frequent or vehement attempts to convince others of something have ironically helped to convince others that the opposite is true, by making the person look insincere and defensive. Thank you, Wikipedia!

I thought about that quote the other day as Tiger Woods responded to a satirical piece written by the great Dan Jenkins. Jenkins wrote an “interview” with Tiger which was clearly labeled as made up in which Tiger was made to look cheap, dumb, and nasty. What happened next is instructive for all of us and for any business.

The “interview” ran in the print-only edition of a golf magazine.  Had Tiger left it alone, it would have been read by hard-core golfers and died.  Instead, Tiger took it upon himself to issue a 600 word rebuttal on which was picked up immediately by the media.  The interest in the controversy grew quickly, and the golf magazine then posted the original article on its website where anyone could read it.  The mostly ignored problem became a front and center issue.  Which is the point.

Maybe you’ve heard it called “The Streisand Effect.”  This is when an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely.  It’s instructive.  By protesting too much we fan the flames of the problem.  Should every negative comment be ignored?  Of course not.  But had Tiger responded publicly (and I’m not sure he should have in this case) with an appreciative chuckle and a wink of the eye (“I’ll have to work harder and adjust my thinking to live up to the bad guy image you made up”), this all would have gone away.  Better would have been a phone call to Jenkins and a quiet meeting someplace to straighten it all out.

There are dozens of examples of companies and individuals choosing the wrong course and triggering The Streisand Effect.  While our emotional response to something false or misleading might be to take that course, the smarter response is to choose another.  What’s yours?

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