How To “Spin” A Failure Into A Positive… Without Looking Like A Fool

On one of the first (sort of) warm days of the year we decided to play basketball. My four year old son loves the game. By the end of last year he became a fantastic dribbler.

Today, he ran outside, grabbed the ball and started dribbling. With the long winter layoff his skills diminished. This frustrated him. He’s too young to understand the concept of practicing to keep your skills sharp.

As any good dad would do, I put a different spin on it.

I explained to him how much better he is today than he was the same time last year.

“Imagine how good you’ll be at the end of the summer. Just make sure you keep practicing.”

I think he gets the picture.

The Art Of Spin

Spin often takes on a negative meaning. It often depends on who it comes from. When we spin a personal setback into something positive we see that as a positive outlook. When politicians spin policy setbacks or decisions into a more positive outlook we label them as evil.

But why? What makes spin positive when I help my son feel better about his basketball skills? What makes it negative when politicians use it to explain policies or decisions?

Here’s an example that shows the difference. I’ll spell it out in a nice neat soundbite at the end.

Back in my software days we once delivered some buggy code to a customer. Before we explained the situation to our customer, we held a meeting to discuss how we would frame our position. In other words, what kind of spin do we put on this bad outcome?

We held the meeting with our customer and we presented our framing of the event. It backfired. We insulted their intelligence with our flimsy spin. We would have been better off admitting our screw up and moving on.

That’s the problem you see with politicians and businesses who make poor use of spin. They ignore the two guidelines that make it work.

Two Rules For Positive Spin

First, your spin must intend to help. The spin on my son’s basketball skills helped him get past his frustration. Compare that to how politicians use it. They exploit it to deflect blame for their own poor judgment. That just feels dirty, right?

Second, an important rule for any kind of business or personal relationship..

Do not treat your audience like they are stupid. Ask yourself if you would believe your frame of the situation. If the answer is no, then assume your recipient will do the same.

We fell into that trap when we explained our buggy software. Politicians fall into that trap when they use terms like alternative facts. It demonstrates that you think of your audience as the village idiot.

Your audience may not always pay attention to what you do. Don’t confuse that with stupidity. If you do you may find yourself labeled as the “alternative facts” purveyor of your world.

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