If communicators were more serious about their work, they would be more articulate about it.
Alas, communicators are likely to label a piece of communication either candor or spin, credible or not, effective or useless.
But that's not how communication works. Between the very occasional bald-faced lies and gleaming truths we tell are so many shades of what I call tries—simultaneous mixtures of truths and lies—you'd be dumb to try to measure communication sincerity on a 10-point scale. More like a color swatch.
If I say "I love you" to my daughter, it's more sincere than when I say the very same words to my wife's Uncle Johnny, isn't it?
If I say you wrote a great article, do I mean that as broadly as I mean, "The Great Gatsby is a great book"?
The "I am glad to be here." While not untrue whether I'm standing before a big audience sweating my palms off, or standing on the first tee of a golf course on the Fourth of July, the proportion of truth in those statements does vary.
Similarly, it was a difficult decision to lay off 10,000 employees. Most executives do believe employees are their greatest asset. And the plan is to turn a profit as early as next quarter. (Okay, that last is a "stretch goal.") And when President Obama says the day Osama bin Laden died was "a good day for America," he probably means it more—and is more broadly believed—than when he says he looks forward to the debate with Republicans over next year's federal budget.
Of course, our audiences are used to taking what we say with variously sized grains of salt. Uncle Johnny, if he reads this, will not be crushed to hear that I love Scout more than I love him, and employees believe they know how much management means what it says, and doesn't mean.
Communication isn't a game of "she loves me, she loves me not."
And communicators, if they are to be better advisors to management, will acknowledge these massive gray areas in their advice. They should say things like:
"What you've told the analysts is good as far as it goes, but my sense is that next quarter they'll need to hear a few more specifics about how we plan to grow our marketshare."
"Employees donte't doubt you're sorry about the layoffs, but the message will have a lot more impact if you can tell how you're going about making sure we don't have such a painful chapter again."
"When we at Subaru say our brand is about 'love,' exactly what kind of love are we talking about—Uncle Johnny love, or seven-year-old daughter love?"
If communicators talked that way more often, management might listen more closely.
At least, it's worth a trie.
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