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Obama's Mistake in the State of the Union Teaches a Valuable Lesson

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Whether you love him or hate him, you can't deny that President Obama is a brilliant speaker, and effective communicator. All great speakers can make missteps. In his 2014 State of the Union address, Obama made a common mistake that many businesses make, too.

What He Was Selling
One of the points the president conveyed was Obamacare. He pointed out how a single mother was able to get health care when she otherwise would not have. The president shared how prescription drugs would cost less, and just barely stopped short of proclaiming that Obamacare would cure world hunger and deliver world peace. Clearly, he was trying to highlight all of the positive aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

So, What Did He Miss?
The problem was that the president overlooked the elephant in the room. Just a few months ago, everyone was talking about how the HealthCare.Gov website launch was a complete debacle. There has been a ton of press (not just on FOX) about the millions of Americans who were promised they could keep their current insurance, but have learned that this is not true. With so much visibility about the problems, the president made a mistake by not addressing the challenges. Furthermore, the president claimed enrollment numbers that news organizations have cited as not accurate. Not to be outdone, the GOP response also misrepresented numbers. With so much transparency today, it's remarkable that politicians continue to present facts that can easily be refuted in a matter of moments with a simple search.

Why Should He and You Bring Up Negatives?
By not acknowledging and owning the problems, it makes the audience question what else the president may have been leaving out. As a viewer, your BS meter registers full tilt. In essence, by not addressing the problems, it makes it seem like either a) the president didn't care about the problems; or b) he thinks people won't remember the problems. I'm sure one of the president's advisors suggested, "Don't bring up the problems. That'll just get people to dwell on the past."

Similarly, some businesses avoid talking about potential objections that customers might have in doing business with them. It might be that you don't' have an office in a specific location, or don't have specific experience. But, by ignoring those topics, you only delay the inevitable. However, if you present those issues up front, the customer is more likely to trust you than if you pretend those hurdles don't exist.

What Could President Obama Have Done Instead
The president could have said something like, "Sweeping changes like this are not easy. We had some early struggles, and things didn't work on the first iteration exactly as we envisioned. But, working hard together, we've overcome some big hurdles, and will continue to make adjustments in any areas where we it makes sense to do so." By taking ownership of the negatives, the rest of his comments would have been better received, and he would have disarmed his opponents.

How Does This Apply To Your Business?
Let's say your previous project was not that successful. You have two choices: 1) Ignore the problem; or 2) Own it.  If you say, "We certainly faced some challenges in the prior project. We've made the following adjustments to ensure we don't run into the same issues this time. What else could we do to improve your comfort moving forward?"  This demonstrates that you acknowledge the issue and devised a plan to address it. Furthermore, you engage your client to focus on the future together. If you ignore the issue, you run the risk of leaving the room and they simply say, "They messed up the last one. I don't trust them anymore."

Most of us are not as talented of a speaker as President Obama. But, if you take ownership of your past failures, you will increase your chance of success and improve your "approval rating" with your customers.

It's Your Turn
When has ignoring an obstacle or past problem eroded trust either as a customer or as a vendor?