How Do You Handle False Accusations?


Fight, Flight, Fright or Quiet? Your response to that question says something about you - to yourself and to others.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn headed the International Monetary Fund and was on track to become the President of France when he was publicly arrested in New York, paraded in front of cameras and was the starring act in many leading news stories. He was charged with assaulting a hotel maid, a single mother who was just trying to make ends meet.

Millions of people decided he was guilty long before it was disclosed that his accuser had bank accounts in four states where her boyfriend, imprisoned for possessing a large amount of drugs, had deposited thousands of dollars. More accusations about the woman, including charges of prostitution by the NYPD, would emerge later.

Were you one of the people who assumed Strauss-Kahn was guilty? Are you now one who assumes the woman is guilty? Hmmmmmm

According to a wise man who was a mentor for me, Strauss-Kahn handled the matter properly: he said nothing.

Here is what my mentor taught me about accusations (sometimes known as gossip); ideas I think you might want to consider when you are unfairly accused:

1.  If someone thinks you are capable of the behavior, it does not matter if you did it or not; their opinion of you is already set.
2.  For your friends, no explanation is necessary; for others, no explanation is ever enough.

What does the accusation say about you?

When I am the subject of gossip or false accusations, I take ownership of it and do not try to defend it. Obviously there has been something about my behavior that causes, or at least allows, others to believe I could actually do whatever has been suggested. I need to up my game.

What does the accusation say about others?

We all have our biases. The more successful a person becomes, the more likely they are to be the subject of gossip or accusations. Some people want successful people to be guilty of bad behavior in order to make themselves look better: "I'm not rich, but at least I don't..."

Still, other people sling accusations from their own weakness. For instance, someone will say something like, "Look at him receiving that award. He thinks he's hot stuff!" What they are saying is, "If I were receiving that award, I would think I was hot stuff."

Silence is more than golden

The only viable response to gossip and accusations is no response.

Think about it this way. Imagine that between you and everyone you talk to there is a pane of glass - a window. When they throw mud at you, it sticks to the window and reduces your ability to "see" each other clearly. Now, suppose in your own defense you throw back denials in the form of pure whipped cream. It sticks to your side of the glass and further obscures your ability to see each other. (The most likely, most common reaction will be for them to toss more mud. It's human nature.)

Now, suppose in this imaginary world they learn the truth that it was not appropriate to throw mud at you and they clean their side of the window. Can you see each other clearly now? No. They will now see you through their perspective of your denials. Not your denials - their viewpoint of your denials. Anything you have said in your own defense can be used for more questions - which could lead to more gossip!

Silence is better.

If you must say something

Some people are too persistent to be ignored and keep bringing up the issue. My mentor suggested that I simply verbalize my position with this question: "If you think I am capable of that it doesn't matter if I did it or not, your opinion of me is already pretty low, isn't it?"

At this point most people will backtrack, stammer or try to change the subject. Do not be deceived, their opinion has not changed. When they have more mud, they'll be back and there is an endless supply of mud. Is this where you should be investing your time?

You are succeeding. Let's say that on the "Success Scale" you are a plus ten and someone accuses you of acting like a minus five. You can spend time trying to justify that you're not a minus five or you can spend the same time and energy in growing to a plus fifteen.

We may never know how Strauss-Kahn spent his time under house arrest. I think it's safe to say that, knowing he was innocent of the worst charges, he was looking to the future. As soon as the reports about his accuser came to light, his supporters in France began calling for him to run for President. That was no accident; he will spend his time now increasing his success, not rehashing what he said in his defense. (We can only imagine how Franco-American relationships will fare if he's elected. After all, how many Americans were among his false accusers?).

How do you respond to false accusations?

By the way

The mentor mentioned above was my father.

Teach Others!

Chuck Reaves, CSP, CPAE, CSO


Chuck Reaves CSP, CPAE is the founder of Twenty-One Associates, Inc., an Atlanta-based sales training and consulting company.

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