There's a good yak starting over at Robert Holland's blog about trust: the extent to which communication relies on it versus the extent to which communication can actually build it.
Robert got the conversation going by talking about a couple of personal relationships, and how his efforts to communicate with children and lovers rise and fall on whether or not they trust one another.
I weigh in by saying that organizational communication is essentially political, that:
everything we do takes
place in a socio-political context having to do with rich people’s
attitudes about middle-class people and vice versa, middle-class
people’s attitudes about poor people and vice versa, managements
attitudes about labor and vice versa.
And it’s EXACTLY why modern communicators, who believe they can be
effective if only they’re organized and align their messages and their
media and their measurement tools, are fools.
Unfortunately, they’re fools who tell management exactly what it
wants to hear, and they get hired over the guy who says, “Look boss, we
need two years of trust-building just to get the guys down at the
Trenton factory to listen to the first word out of your mouth.”
It also occurs to me to add here, a point I've been thinking about for awhile, about politics and the advisability of writing about them in a "communication blog," like mine, Steve Crescenzo's, Shel Holtz's or Robert Holland's.
I think two truths apply:
1. Readers don't come to a communication blog (or an IT blog or a horse whispering blog) to hear one more asshole's opinion on the merits of the public option. A communication blog will be resented for ranting and raving about the same policies or politicians that Keith Olbermann and Bill O'Reilly are railing about. It's not hard for our readers to get to, "If I wanted to listen to this crap, I'd turn on my TV."
• But almost as off-putting is a communication blog that never reveals the writer's political view. We are not just "communicators"—amoral information trumpets to be played, sweetly or sourly, by whoever owns us. We are players in the organizations we work for, participants in the lives of the people we communicate to, factors in the consciences of the people we advise. If we believe that management is greedy, that is one thing. That employees are whiners, that's another. That spineless middle managers are the problem, that's a third.
Our attitudes about labor unions, technologists, American customers (are they always right, or is a fool born every minute?), investors … these are all political points of view that must necessarily inform any communications we do—and advise our clients to do.
Is the solution persuading employees that current working conditions are "competitive" (and, thus justified), or is it getting managers to make a key concession? Does the organization need to improve the quality of its products, or do consumers need to be "educated" to have more realistic expectations. Communicators don't have a final say in such decisions, but they certainly have a horse in the race.
And so a communicator who takes pains to hide his or her general attitudes and specific opinions about these kinds of issues—as circumstances arise and as the spirit inspires—is doing so in order to give hiring managers the false (or worse, correct) impression that they'll play whatever tune that's requested.
Talk about your trust issues.
Three cheers for David’s two truths!
David, you said: “Our attitudes about labor unions, technologists, American customers, investors … these are all political points of view that must necessarily inform any communications we do—and advise our clients to do.”
I don’t agree with this. I mean, it’s true that my life experiences inform the person I’ve become, but it doesn’t necessarily impact how I advise my company or client about doing the most appropriate communications activities.
I liken this to back in high school or college when you learned debating. You were always required to learn how to defend BOTH sides of an issue aggressively and competently regardless of where you personally stood. I had a hard time with that when I started out debating, but now with a few more years and life experiences behind me, I’ve learned to be able to separate what I think is best personally, and what is best for the business when necessary.
That’s not to say that I am a yes-person. When it makes sense for the business for me to challenge a status quo, I certainly do so. But, I rarely do that based on what I personally think. More often my recommendations are based on a knowledge of our particular business, our management team, our industry challenges, and the structure of our employee base.
It’s quite rare actually for my own personal opinions about things – issues, like: money, downsizing, change, etc. – to align with those of my organization in such a close fit that my perspective could be a key factor in what I recommend. In fact, I feel I have a responsibility to carefully separate my own positions on issues, especially contentious issues, in order to be truly effective in doing my job. Unless, of course, management ASKS for my own opinions [and that’s pretty rare nowadays].
I can also tell you that in nearly 15 years of doing communications in a corporate environment, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve discussed politics in doing my job, except to reflect any political legislative impacts on our business, how they might directly affect our company and how we ought to deal with that. Never, my own personal political opinions.
But, maybe I’m out of the ordinary on this. I’ll be interested though to see what others’ opinions on this are.
David Murray says
“When it makes sense for the business for me to challenge a status quo, I certainly do so.”
This right here contains a book on business ethics, my friend. And who decides when it “makes sense for the business” for you to challenge a status quo?
You do. And based on what, besides your own attitudes about what is right and what is wrong–what will work long-term and what isn’t socially sustainable? And your politics have nothing to do with it?
Look, I don’t believe there’s room in an organization for a raving socialist communicator, and in most communication departments would reject or marginalize a raving right-winger.
But politics comes in. Perhaps, to use your words, “rarely,” “more often” not, “quote rare,” “unless … management asks for my own opinions,” “I can count on one hand.”
Well, I don’t think a communication blog should focus entirely on politics either. Just that it shouldn’t pretend politics isn’t any ingredient in the fuel that fires a communicator.
Robert J Holland, ABC says
I don’t think the issue is so much about taking a “political position” as it is about just taking “a position.”
I’m with you, David, that those of us who have appointed ourselves as commentators on our profession must be willing to take positions — sometimes strong ones — on the issues we discuss. But our political leanings are just a small part of what informs those positions.
When I form an opinion about something, I bring everything I am to the table — my professional experience, my personal values, my spirituality, my beliefs about what is right and wrong, my theories about business, my ethics, and many other things, including my political views.
I think to the extent that our readers understand why we make specific references to any of those things — in order to shape the debate — they’re willing to tolerate our views that might conflict with theirs. But, as you suggest, if we’re just playing Olbermann or O’Reilly for the sake of using our blogs as political pulpits, then I think we risk losing the trust of our readers.
David Murray says
Well, I mean politics in a slightly broader sense of the word–broader than electoral politics, than right wing/left wing ideologies.
Politics meaning, all social power transactions–some of which have to do with politicians and the ideas they espouse.
And others of which aren’t discussed by politicians, like the examples I purposely used above, about our attitudes toward customers, about technologists, about corporate labor policy (which politicians will no longer touch with a 10-foot pole).
Our attitudes about these things–and our theories about business, ideas about spirituality, all the stuff you mention–inform everything we do as communicators (and as colleagues).
And if they don’t, what does?
And if such attitudes aren’t explicitly revealed in our blog every now and then, we must ask ourselves, what are we trying to hide, and why?
Robert J Holland, ABC says
Or what business are they trying to land? Or what client are they trying to cater to?
David Murray says
Or what idea of a bland and sterile and humorless and humanity-free corporate world they’re trying to live in with moral ease and comfort.
Sean Williams says
I won’t work for a tobacco company, either inside or as a consultant. I will work for either left- or right-leaning people. I’ll work for moderates. After all, if my personal whims exert too much influence on my business development strategy, I’ll be a poor wretch, begging. But if they exert too little influence, I’ll be a prostitute.
Politics are personal. I will have a perspective, and if I have the opportunity, I’ll suggest a course of action based on that perspective. I’ll even suggest to my client that no amount of communication can salvage bad behavior without impetus for change.
As for the blog — my blog takes positions frequently, though I try to stay away from the Right versus Left shouting and stick with practical observations about our profession.
David Murray says
Well, Sean, as long as you don’t insult your hard-earned, middle-aged opinions by calling them “whims” (as opposed to the infallible wisdom of the middle-aged senior managers we work for, right?) I guess I can agree with what you say here.
As far as blogs and columns, the most compelling are those that are unpredictable, where the reader always wonders, “Where IS this person coming from?” They keep coming back in hopes of pinning you down …..