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How to Handle a Misquote Without Hurling Things

August 23, 2017

Do you remember the game pass-the-message? Some people call it the whispering game or the telephone game.

Here are the rules. Each team must either sit in a circle or stand in a line. The first player whispers something to the next person. Each player takes turns whispering the message to their neighbors until it reaches the last player who says the message out loud. The team who can repeat the original message in verbatim — or at least close to it — wins.

In this game, the message has to be relayed perfectly by each person.

But we all know what actually happens.

Someone forgets what he’s supposed to say. Another person doesn’t listen carefully. In the end, what the last player says is so off-the-mark.

When the real message is revealed, everyone bursts into laughter.

We learn how one small change can twist the meaning of words. If only it’s as fun in the real world as it is in a game.

What happens when an interview doesn’t go as planned?

1. The Interview

You cannot believe your luck when you’ve finally caught a reporter’s attention. They love you. They love your business. They want to make the whole world know about you. At least, you hope they do. You open-up with your story, and at this point, you think everything’s going great. All those sleepless nights are finally paying off.

Before the interview, you may want to confirm the angle the reporter is taking. It may be nowhere near what you imagine. Prevention is always key.

Once that’s set, try to speak slowly and clearly, so the interview is recorded properly.

Some questions require complex answers. If you feel you need to think it over, feel free to pause and request for some time. If you have a better answer, politely ask if you can repeat the question.

2. Wait! That’s not what I said.

Boom! Reality smacks you hard in the face. You’ve been waiting for this moment, but as you’re reading the article, something feels off.

This isn’t what you expected at all. Maybe it’s entirely different from what you said. Maybe you remember saying something like this, but it’s been taken out of context.

What are you supposed to do now?

3. Remain calm.

The first thing to do in any crisis is breathe. Right now, this feels bigger than an earthquake and a hurricane combined. No matter what the emergency is you have to stay calm. That way you can think clearly. It is never wise to act rashly. You not only risk more damage, but you might also end up burning bridges.

4. Assess the situation.

Being misquoted is rare. Most journalists ask to record the interview or take notes. Ask yourself if it’s really a misquote. Sometimes people mention something they didn’t think would be included. They don’t realize anything can be quoted during an interview. Sometimes the reporter only uses one or two sentences. While the story is framed differently from what you expect, it’s not actually a misquote.

But what if it is? What if they’ve published something you know you never said?

5. Consider its impact, and then reach out.

If the article is published online, it’s easier to make the appropriate changes.

However, things get trickier with magazines or news papers. Before reaching out, weigh the gravity of the error. Is it a minor mistake? Can the readers still grasp the original meaning of the phrase? Does it affect the business negatively?

If you think the good outweighs the bad, consider letting it go. However, if it has a serious impact, contact the journalist and the editor. Explain the situation as calmly and respectfully as possible. Let them know the reasons why you need it corrected. You may request them to print an apology or suggest they publish a letter from you with the corrections.

6. Be better prepared next time.

Learn from this situation. Arm yourself with better knowledge. The more prepared you are the less risk you have of being misquoted on paper.

Always remember to keep the relationship in good terms. In the long run, gaining press attention can still give you a much needed boost.

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