THE BLOG
07/20/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Spin vs. Topspin

The presidential election is over, but intense jockeying from all quarters about legislation, issues, rights and wrongs, and errors and omissions has not abated one iota. Contention is a given in the competitive world of politics and is often expressed by spinning, the black art of attempting to influence public perception in one's favor or against that of the opposition. Spinning can be as harmless as gilding the lily or it can escalate to distortion or even to outright deception; all the points along the scale, however, are of dubious integrity.

One of the best examples of political spin is the 1998 film, Wag the Dog, in which a U.S. President is accused of a scandalous liaison. To limit his damage, the president calls in a Washington spin doctor, played by Robert DeNiro, whose proceeds to retain a Hollywood producer, played by Dustin Hoffman, and together they concoct a fictional war in the Balkans.

In this scenario, spin could more accurately be called "slant," for the tactic diverts attention away from the main issue. Spin is akin the sleight-of-hand magicians use to misdirect audiences. This is not to say that a politician, a businessperson, a representative of an organization, or anyone in any competitive walk of life--including you-- should not defend your own cause and position it in a favorable light. However, you must address the issue directly rather than divert away from it; only then can you go on to counterbalance the negativity by adding your own message.

This additive, rather than digressive approach is called Topspin, a tennis term that refers to a stroke that causes the ball to bounce sharply and give a player a winning advantage. In public as well as personal communication, Topspin is a positive statement or restatement of a key message that gives a speaker a winning advantage. But just as tennis players must first meet the ball before applying Topspin, communicators must first address the central issue directly before adding their own message. While politicians rarely address issues at all, businesspersons must always do so. In business, accountability trumps messaging.

For instance, if a salesperson were to be asked by a customer, "Why do you charge so much more for your product than your competition does?" the salesperson could respond, "The reason we sell our product at that price point is because we provide you with a service guarantee that extends the life of the product. When you buy our product, you get more for your money."

Notice that the response doesn't deny the price point, nor does it agree that the price is high. Thus the salesperson acknowledges the negativity in the question without any evasion, admission, or contention. Then, having addressed the issue directly, the response continues on to Topspin with a call to action ("When you buy our product") as well as a benefit ("you get more for your money").

Topspin is a world apart from spin.