By now the entire world seems to have heard about the “extreme low blow” in a recent Republican debate, in which Marco Rubio used an 80s-era Spy magazine dig at Donald Trump for having small hands-as a metaphor for the size of other parts of Trump’s anatomy. Trump responded, in typical fashion, by bluntly showing his hands and saying “I assure you there’s no problem.”

I doubt anyone remembers much about the rest of the debate. And that’s the problem. The media had a field day with the incident. So did the comics. For all the wrong reasons. And it hasn’t gone away.

Going on the attack by “taking the low road” almost never gets the result you want–especially with the media. Too often the attack takes on a life of its own and brings unexpected consequences that obscure the very point you were trying to make.

We often counsel clients to “take the high road” when it comes to responding to personal attacks, especially through the media. There are several reasons for this:

  • Responding in kind to such an attack is like pouring gas on a fire, and almost assures you the story won’t go away anytime soon
  • It may invite further scrutiny by the media, and further response from your attacker
  • The low-blow will be remembered long after the issue itself has gone away, and may color future media interactions

A CEO of a successful client of ours once described a dispute he got into with a rival, who was saying things about the company that weren’t true. This really angered the CEO and he was about to respond in kind when a thought hit him: was he going to be proud of what he’d done—not just now, but five years from now—if he went forward? Not only did he decline to respond, he and his “accuser” eventually became friends and allies.

Just as taking the low road has unexpected consequences that linger, so does taking the high road.

Take the high road. You’ll like those consequences a whole lot more.

Michael Kassin

Image via Pixabay