Why You Should Stop Defending Your Work

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on February 20, 2013 – 6:02 AM

Let’s say you’re a hedge fund manager.

You know that many people in the public—even though they don’t fully understand what hedge funds are—hate your work. Some blame you for the financial collapse of 2008. A few even regard you as immoral.

So when you’re interviewed by reporters who ask you about the unpopularity of hedge funds, your inclination is to defend what you do for a living and aggressively rebut their charges.

It’s a natural instinct—but it’s also a mistake.


Too often, spokespersons defend themselves by saying something such as:

“Hedge funds weren’t the main cause of the financial collapse in 2008—many other factors were much more responsible. It’s important to remember that hedge funds are an important financial instrument that….”

But that’s a bad idea. Why? Because it’s much easier to defend yourself than to change the public’s perception of an entire industry they view as corrupt. Instead, you’d be much better served by aligning your answer to the existing concerns of the public:

“You know, there were a few bad hedge funds out there, and they gave all of us doing honest work a bad name. Their misbehavior infuriates me, because I’ve spent my entire career trying to do things the right way. I understand why people are upset about some of the bad apples in my industry—I am too.”

In the first answer, do you really think the spokesperson changed many minds? Do you think the public is likely to suddenly view that spokesperson as a “good guy” who “gets it?” Probably not. But they might if the spokesperson uses the second answer.

To be clear, there are legitimate times when you may choose to defend against unfair stereotypes about your industry. But that’s usually a longer-term proposition that could compromise the public’s view of your company, at least in the near-term. So ask yourself if defending your work is the smartest communications strategy—or whether you should let some other company take those hits for you instead.

Click here to read free sample chapters from my new book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.

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Comments (4)

  1. By Rodger Johnson:

    Defense posturing does the exact opposite of what most folks think it should do. And in your example, the speaker is deflecting blame too, which backfires most of the time when paired with a defensiveness.

    You example pairs deflection with an emotional reaction, then positions with a positive virtue — “I’ve spent my entire career trying to do things the right way.” And ends with empathy — “I understand why people are upset … ”

    So, the formula for a successful re-positioning statement might be:

    Deflection + Emotion reaction + personal virtue + empathy = successful re-positioning?

    Would that be right?

  2. By Brad Phillips:


    I’ve never thought about it in such a formulaic manner, but you may be on to something! I’d like to give this one more thought – perhaps there is an underlying formula that I should try to deconstruct!

    Thanks for reading and for the thoughtful comment.

    Best wishes,

  3. By Phil Goldstein:

    This is good advice for anyone who happens to be in a category of persons who act unethically or even criminally, e.g., politicians, cops, prosecutors, bankers, contractors, gun owners, Muslims, orthodox Jews, athletes, lawyers, etc. in other words, everyone. Surely, there are bad actors in every group and at some point, you are going to be tarred with their sins. Of course it is unfair but, as Brad says, the best approach is to condemn the wrongdoers and distinguish yourself as one of he good guys.

  4. By Michel van Baal:

    @Rodger and Brad,
    Interesting thought. Wouldn’t ’empathy’-‘deflection’-’emotion’-‘personal virtue’ work better? Mainly because it might trigger a different type of follow-up question, making it easier to go to a message? (If you don’t add it directly)

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