I started Simply Communicate with the aim of simply helping people communicate. By that I mean, helping them communicate the message they intended to communicate. Because, whether we like or not, we all communicate, all of the time. Even silence speaks volumes, as when a wife asks her husband, “Do I look fat?” and even a slight pause will spell disaster.
Organisations often keep quiet when they don’t know what to say, or they are waiting for some meaningful piece of information, or for a particular event to unfold. But just as nature abhors a vacuum, so human beings abhor silence, and will rush to fill it. If the company, the CEO or the Manager doesn’t say something, someone else will. And that someone will not necessarily have the company’s best interests at heart. Even if they are not malicious, they will have taken control of the conversation, leaving management trying to explain things.
Simply communicate, but recognise that communication is far from simple. Words alone, for example, are not enough. Actions consistent with our words are essential. A manager who says that he values innovation and out-the-box thinking in an employee will be ignored if only those who follow the rules are promoted, and risk takers are criticised.
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005, American President, George Bush, and his government said the right things early in the disaster, but they failed to act, and their words amounted to nothing. So says Fred Gracia in his book, The Power of Communication. He writes, “By day three of the flood, the situation on the ground had deteriorated. There was still very little government presence. Many people were still stranded without food, water, medicine, or other help.”
President Bush had been on holiday in Texas, and continued his schedule. On the disaster’s third day he flew back to Washington as planned, but directed Air Force One to fly low over New Orleans. He didn’t land. Gracia writes, “People on the ground, including the news media, could recognise the… President’s Boeing 747, with United States of America painted on the side. Television cameras focused alternatively on people transfixed by the sight, and on the profile of the plane as it slowly looped around the city. Then they watched the plane fly away. It was a metaphor for abandonment, and was reported that way.”
One has to ask oneself constantly, “How will my actions and words, or my failure to act or speak, be interpreted? How will my employees/clients/shareholders respond?” Despite what presidents and CEOs often think, people around us do not wait for our spin on events. If we don’t move quickly enough, they will interpret things within their own framework, and that interpretation may leave us trying to play catch up. What may have been avoided by a few bold words and appropriate action early in the piece, will take far greater initiative and effort to fix once it runs away from us.
What do you think? Do you have a communication story of success or failure, or a different take on communication? Please share it in the comments below, or send me an email at email@example.com.
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