Posted by: Kristen Ridley | March 14, 2017

Knowing your audience has never been more important

“FAKE NEWS!!!” That statement has become ubiquitous in our current society. The impact  of what it means can’t really be overestimated. The social media world we all live in means that virtually any information you want can be accessed in seconds with just a click on your phone. But ease doesn’t automatically mean truth, and therein lies the rub.

There are lots of people out there who are more than happy to take advantage of our willingness to just accept information at face value – sometimes because it’s easy, and sometimes because what we find fits our existing perspective on a fundamental level so we want to believe it is truth.

As a communicator who has worked in mainly corporate environments, I usually have a “captive” audience for the information and messaging I share on behalf of my organization. That is a bit of a positive, because it means I don’t have to work that hard to GAIN my audience’s attention.

The second part of successfully communicating, however, gaining my audience’s ACTION based on what my communication is trying to accomplish can actually be harder because  of the fact that they hear from me a lot. So I’ve found that really knowing my audience: who they are, what they know [or think they know] and what they need and want in terms of information is even more critical than if I were a business trying to gain followers on Twitter.

Here are a few of the ways I do that:

Build a real relationship with the audience – you can’t effectively communicate with people you don’t really know, period. You MUST spend quality time talking with and, more importantly, listening to your audience to understand how to communicate with them [note I said “with them” and not “to them”]. I make it a point with my audiences to regularly talk with as many members of the audience as I possibly can on a regular basis. If that means making “check in” phone calls on a monthly basis, booking a touch-point meeting with key folks, or simply getting up from my desk and walking around to say: “hi, what’s going on?” the important thing is making sure my business partners know that I am interested in, and genuinely care about their needs, challenges and interests.

Tell the whole story – Sometimes that is challenging. Because much of my experience has been as an internal communicator, my main audience has often been employees of the business. Sometimes, leadership can be concerned about telling employees everything that is really going on, particularly in times when the business is facing challenges or difficulties. As a communicator, it’s my job to advocate for telling our employees the truth and thereby allowing them to be part of helping the business successfully navigate those challenges. Because I have found that in almost all cases, that’s exactly what the employees WANT to do. They are there because they want the business to succeed, so allowing them to do that requires a clear understanding of what is happening and why, as well as what needs to happen to move forward. Obviously, in some types of businesses there are regulatory or other legal constraints that must be followed in terms of sharing information. But barring those, telling employees as much as possible is almost always the right path forward in my experience, and that’s what I recommend to my leadership to keep the team moving ahead.

Do what you say you will – one of the biggest challenges with internal communication is making sure that information-sharing is two-way. It can become usual to send out information to employees without making sure you are asking for, and listening to the response to that information. As the communications person, it’s my job to find ways to receive as well as deliver information, and to make sure the right people in the organization hear those perspectives and act appropriately on them. There’s an old quote I like that goes: “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care”, and I think that’s a very important thing to remember as an internal – well, really as any type of –  communicator. We talk a great deal in communication about “WIIFM” or What’s In It For Me? because that is absolutely how anyone on the receiving end of information responds to it. The instant question that pops into someone’s mind when unsolicited – and sometimes even solicited – information is presented to them, is “Why should I care?” Having a communication approach that answers that question clearly, and ensures the audience can respond to your information and feel that their perspective is heard and acted upon is the best way to maintain a successful information highway between your organization and all its stakeholders.

Tell the truth – ALWAYS – last, and most importantly, this brings us back around to where this post started, i.e. fake news. In the years I have spent working as a communicator, if there’s one thing I’ve learned that has always proven true, it is don’t lie to your audience. It virtually always comes back to bite you in the posterior, especially with employees. Once employees believe you are not being truthful with them, they stop listening to anything you say, and that is a very difficult place to be when you NEED your employees to take certain actions to help your business succeed. Additionally, it is incredibly difficult to repair a relationship with your audience – whether employees OR clients – once they don’t believe they can trust you. It is so much easier and more effective to maintain a strong relationship with stakeholders by telling them what’s really going on consistently. If there are reasons why you really can’t share something, then you say that, but you don’t lie or dissemble or “PR” them, because it won’t help and will probably hurt you – and by extension the business – in the long run. Twitter followers might be lazy or gullible enough to believe fake news, but your clients, and especially your employees, almost always know better, and they won’t forgive you for it.

I always marvel when I write a post about communications, that doing it successfully “sounds” so easy, and yet DOING the right things can be so challenging. Of course, that’s also what makes it such a wonderful job, and why I can’t imagine wanting to do anything else. It’s also why I keep looking for the next opportunity to challenge myself in a great organization where I can help build successful communications with great employees!

 

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | February 27, 2017

Mistakes – handle them gracefully

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a movie buff. And as a movie buff, the annual Academy Awards are like Christmas for me. I look forward to it all year and spend the entire evening online with my friends discussing everything that goes on.

Last night’s Oscars had an epic fail when the presenters – Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway – were given the wrong envelope for the Best Picture award. What followed was everyone’s worst nightmare, as the people from the film announced [but which DID NOT win] were on the stage and halfway through their acceptance speech before the mistake was corrected and announced so the actual winners could get on stage to accept their award.

Mistakes can happen with the best planned situations. Granted, this was a pretty massive mistake, what with a BILLION PEOPLE watching on national television, but still, when you’re dealing with humans, who are, well, human, it happens.

As a communicator, I have experienced my own share of mistakes throughout my career, so this has me thinking about what you do AFTER a mistake happens to try not to make it worse. I think a reminder is always helpful, so, let’s review shall we?

Step 1 –  FIX the mistake AS SOON AS IT IS IDENTIFIED – The Academy Awards did this step and they did it well. The producer of the film that was incorrectly announced first was the person who told the correct winners that a mistake had been made and immediately got them onto the stage to accept their award. I have to give it to that man – he behaved with grace and respect during what has to have been a disappointment of the most monumental proportions in the history of the world for him. Despite that, he was completely focused on letting the correct winners know and get their award. “Kudos” doesn’t begin to cover it here, but well done to him. In the business world, it is just as important to fix any error as soon as it is discovered. Even though, for the most part, we don’t have the entire world watching when a mistake is made in a corporate environment, the people affected by an error we make – whether those are customers, employees or other business partners – are just as displeased, trust me. So the most important thing is to fix a mistake as quickly as you possibly can. Having a leader of the business simply step up to our stakeholders a

Step 2 – APOLOGIZE, if appropriate – the accountants responsible for the Oscar envelopes – the people who physically hand the envelopes to the presenters – Price Waterhouse Coopers were quickly out on Twitter with an apology to all the folks involved. That was, I think the correct way to handle this. First off it was absolutely appropriate in this case to apologize for the embarrassment and the upset this error caused to all involved on the Oscars stage last evening. But as importantly, putting their apology on Twitter ensured that the largest number of people possible saw their apology – what with over a billion people having seen the mistake, and all. And because the world now looks at Twitter to see what people are saying about anything that is “news”they got in front of the situation right away. In the corporate world, whether an apology is appropriate is a bit more involved to determine. Sometimes, apologizing could have legal implications, sometimese apologizing can make a situation worse instead of better. I’m absolutely not saying that corporate errors don’t require apologies, there are plenty of situations where a simple “We made a mistake, and we are sorry for the difficulties it caused” can help to rebuild a relationship damaged by a mistake, and an apology is an important step that should always be carefully and thoughtfully considered. In general, my advice to my leaders is that making an apology is a “yes” until and unless we have a truly compelling reason not to make one. In the vast majority of cases apologizing is the right thing to do.

Step 3 – FIGURE OUT HOW IT HAPPENED & MAKE SURE IT DOESN’T REPEAT – this is probably the hardest, but most critical part of recovering from an error. People will usually forgive you for an honest mistake . . . ONCE. Where last evening’s Oscar mistake is concerned, my bet is that this morning at the L.A. offices of Price Waterhouse Coopers there was a very intense meeting going on to re-vamp their process for envelope management at the Academy Awards going forward. I’m willing to be this will not happen again. As a corporate communicator, part of my job is to help my leadership and my business partners to do a similar process review after a mistake is made. As the communicator, I am connected to our business and its processes, but I am outside the day-to-day things. So I can offer an objective perspective on how we do things now [that allowed a mistake to happen] and how we might adjust to fill the gap that obviously isn’t ideal from a results perspective. This can be a complex process, as corporate processes can be dense and entrenched, so changing them can be challenging. But ultimately, if our processes allowed a mistake to happen that created issues for our business, we need to reconsider them, and take action to address the situation. That’s just good business.

As the talking heads said this morning, the 2017 Best Picture Academy Award winner will forever be remembered by pretty much everyone thanks to what happened at the awards. In the film industry, the old adage that “any publicity is good publicity” is probably true, so the fact that a mistake happened isn’t going to destroy the film industry. In the corporate world, however, sometimes a mistake can have devastating results for the success of the business if it isn’t handled effectively. The steps suggested above, while they sound simple [they really aren’t in practice] can make the difference between weathering a mistake and getting back to business, or spending weeks or months trying to recover instead of doing what we do. As a communicator, it’s my job to help my business get past a mistake quickly, efficiently, and to the benefit of all our stakeholders. I take a lot of pride in the responsibility, and in helping my company and my colleagues to respond to our stakeholders and show them that while we may be human, we also care about the people we work with.

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | February 23, 2017

Giving advice that’s useful [hopefully]

I am frequently asked by friends or contacts for advice about career searching. Since I have changed jobs perhaps a bit more frequently than some [due to things like corporate restructuring and maternity leave contract replacement roles, among other reasons] I guess I’ve gotten good enough at the ins and outs of it to have knowledge others find worthwhile. Since I’m a communicator, and therefore a very social person, I’m always happy to share anything I know that might help someone else.

And when I’m asked for advice about job searching and how to manage the process, I generally offer the same three pieces of insight, which, on reflection, I realize are also the main things I use to be a successful communicator when I am in a job:

Always stay focused on the objective – when you are job-hunting, this can be hard, because the nature of looking for a new job is not fun. Between recruiters/HR people who are too busy to spend more than a few seconds scanning each resume, the fact that there are always many other applicants for every job and then there’s the emotional aspect of constantly being judged and rated and often never hearing back on an application, the process of finding a job can be brutal, and it will wear you down if you let it. So when people ask me what I suggest, I always say focus on your objective, which is finding a job. There are steps and actions that will help you to do that, and focusing on those instead of the emotions that will pop up to distract you will be the best way to not let the setbacks get to you. Communicators also have distractions: executives who don’t see the value in effective communication practices, employees who are too busy to read the information we work so hard to deliver for them, budgets that won’t stretch to allow you to do things the way they really should be done. And the only way to not get discouraged is to keep going back to the objective and find a way to get it done, even if that means taking an alternate route.

Don’t take it personally – this one is hard to do sometimes, whether we’re talking about job-hunting or delivering communications. As a human being, we naturally see the world through our own, personal lens and perspective. When someone does something [or doesn’t do something] the way we were hoping for, it can feel like they are intentionally trying to hurt/annoy/frustrate us. But when you flip that around, and think about the things YOU do every day, you realize that when you do or don’t do something, it is rarely motivated around someone else, but rather we do things because they are helpful or appropriate for what WE need or are trying to accomplish. True, our actions may impact someone else as well, but the main intent isn’t typically them, but us. So when we are tempted to insert an intention to another person’s actions in relation to us that seems negative or malicious, I always recommend stopping and remembering that it’s very likely the other person wasn’t even thinking about us when they did whatever they did. So trying not to take things personally is a helpful strategy, both for job-hunting, and as a communicator! Those employees who didn’t look at the intranet article? I can almost guarantee it wasn’t because they don’t like you, or want to ruin your performance appraisal – more likely they had to choose between reading your article before the end of the day, and making their train home on time.

Take a break – My final standard piece of advice for both my job-hunting friends and myself when doing communications, is to step away and think about something else when you need some perspective. Both job searches and communications work can easily take over your entire mind if you allow it to, and no matter how important something is, or how dedicated you are to it, it will not deliver good results without balance and perspective. Sometimes, the best thing to do is step away and do something else: take a walk, read a book, talk to someone about a subject you love, play with the dog, etc., etc., etc. You get the idea. Even a small brief break to allow your brain to re-set can be extremely helpful in your motivation and effectiveness. Every communicator knows that the longer you have spent looking at a document you created, the less likely it is that you will be capable of proofreading it successfully. You need to step away for a while, so that when you look at it again, it is fresh and new. It’s the same with job searching. It will wear you down at times, and when it does, the best thing is to take a break and do something uplifting and encouraging so that you are in the right frame of mind when you come back to it, so that you present yourself to hiring managers as the talented, excited, capable candidate you actually are, not the exhausted, frustrated cranky person who has spent nine hours scanning job descriptions online.

These items all seem obvious, but I have found – both for others and for myself – that because they do seem fundamental, they are easy to push to the side and forget about. So writing them down here is not only an offering for those who may be currently looking for a new role and could use the advice, but also a reminder for myself, who is not only looking for my next exciting challenge, but who is also a communicator and can use that advice in two different areas of my own life. What’s that old saying? “Physician, heal thyself”.

Hopefully, some of this will resonate. I know that the contacts I’ve offered this advice to in the past have found it of assistance. And any time you can help someone else out, I’m all for that!

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | February 15, 2017

Full circle . . . again!

I’ve been away from blogging for quite some time. Life has been . . .  interesting . . . over the past year, and it has taken all my energy to manage, leaving little time for the kind of thoughtful reflection that results in blog posts I’d actually put out there for the world to read [okay, not the world, exactly . . . but, you know, I have a handful of friends who find something interesting here occasionally]. Lately, however, I’m finding myself back to feeling like I have something to say that is worth sharing in a blog post.

But to focus my perspective, I’ve looked through my past posts, and decided that a great way to re-start things here would be to list some of my personal favourites. So here [in no particular order] is my top 10 list of the posts I’ve written on the blog which I’m most fond of/proud of/entertained by and that are a good reflection of my approach to writing and thinking about the world around us:

  1. People lessons learned – things my work has taught me about working well with others.
  2. 12 Days of Christmas – the Communicator version – one of my holiday posts.
  3. Hockey’s lessons for communicators – exactly what it sounds like!
  4. Evolution of a communicator’s career – in movies – I talk about how movies have been a metaphor for the route my career as a writer/communicator has taken.
  5. It may look like I’m goofing off, but REALLY, I’m working – the activities required to be a good communicator/writer don’t always look like work . . . but they ARE!
  6. What the Dalai Lama can teach business leaders – surprisingly, quite a bit.
  7. The Princess Bride’s advice for communicators – using my favourite movie to consider good approaches to successfully writing and communicating.
  8. Ode to a communicator – a light-hearted poem about the life of a communications person/corporate writer.
  9. Do you write with lightning, or lightning bugs? A post about the importance of writing well and thoughtfully [plus homage to my hero – Mark Twain].
  10. Do or shut up – there is no whine! How I keep my eyes on the prize in trying times.

I had a lot of fun reminiscing about my past post here, and now I’m going to start thinking about some new things to talk about in hopes of re-energizing the blog. I hope to see you out here soon!

 

 

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | April 30, 2015

Brave new world, or wild, wild west?

Recent events, in particular the violence and rioting in several U.S. cities following the injury or death of African-Americans during or after arrest by law enforcement, have really made me consider – and struggle with – the “new world” of information delivery that social media and the 24-hour news cycle have created.

On the one hand I love social media! I use Twitter, Facebook and other websites daily, and find them a tremendously valuable resource for information, connection and staying abreast of what people are talking about. As a communications professional, those are the foundations of what I do and they are critical tools to enable me to do it well.

On the other hand, the immediacy, speed and ease of posting things for the world to see has reduced, if not entirely eliminated the obligation that has traditionally been part of mainstream media’s content delivery, to scrupulously fact-check and identify sources to ensure the truth of a piece of information before publishing it. With the advent of social media absolutely anyone can post anything, any time with no thought or responsibility to confirm whether something they are saying or validating is factual.

The democratic nature of this wild new west of information has the benefit of allowing those who in the traditional media landscape would not have access to present their messages, to do so unfettered by anyone’s agenda but their own. And therein lies both the benefit and the risk.

These recent instances of violence have particularly resonated for me because they have highlighted something about social media that has disturbed me for a while. I call it “repost-because-you-agree-with-it-and-would-like-it-to-be-true” syndrome. I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about. Someone posts a “news” story that is highly inflammatory or extreme in terms of bad behaviour or a terrible act by someone whom you don’t like/support on a political or philosophical level [or even something/someone you DO agree with] without researching to confirm whether what we’re reposting is accurate, whether it happened exactly as the meme says it did, or frankly, if it happened at all. We’ve all done it – heck in my early days on social media I did it myself [I’m not proud of it, but honesty requires me to admit it].

Human nature is what it is – we are predisposed to accept people, stories and perspectives that align with our own world-view. I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally wrong with gravitating to people with similar world-views – although I’m proud to say that I have a number of online friends with whom I agree on very little, but whom I consider as, if not more important to keeping me honest in terms of my views and opinions, because they challenge me to seriously consider the validity of those views and, when appropriate, ask me to defend, or at least explain them in a clear and sensible way. [Note: in fact, it was one of those very types of friends – Isaac Pigott – who’s Facebook post of this morning  helped inspire this post.

But my hope for the possibility that we can do better continues to persevere, despite mountains of evidence suggesting it’s a well and truly lost cause [what can I say? There’s obviously some Pollyanna left in me even at my advanced age!]. So I am publishing, here on my blog for anyone who cares to read it, the things that I promise to do when I see these oh-so-tempting heinous-sounding stories and want to knee-jerk hit “share”:

I will:

  • Stop-drop-and-think – similar to “stop-drop-and-roll” from our childhood fire safety training, I think that our obsessive access to social media stories almost designed to start metaphorical fires and create angry wedges between us at exactly a time in our history when we can least afford that, does all of us a huge disservice. So when I see these things, no matter how tempting, I promise to stop and really think about it before I share. A few minutes quiet contemplation aren’t going to kill anyone if I don’t repost that story immediately, or ever! [I’m really just not that important]
  • Find out if it’s TRUE – this is a big one, because as we all know when you post a really juicy sounding story, it often ends up as “front page” and makes its way around the entire interwebs before somebody points out that IT NEVER HAPPENED! Or at the very least, it didn’t happen the way we’re saying it did. The biggest problem with that is that it’s almost impossible to stop something like that once it spreads. It keeps popping up because someone new sees it, reposts it because it “sounds” like it could have happened, and the whole nasty cycle starts all over again. The good thing about the interwebs, is that thanks to Google, it really isn’t difficult or time-consuming to find out if something is true. Sites like Snopes.com make it super-easy to find out if “Starbucks refused to send free product to marines serving in Iraq, saying the company didn’t support the war or anyone taking part in it” ever really happened [I’ll save you some time – it didn’t! See details here]
  • Challenge my contacts who post things that aren’t true – I’ve actually done this [the Starbucks think was one of those challenges] and I think we all have a responsibility to say: “Just so you know this “whatever” story isn’t actually accurate, and here’s the link to the confirmation of that,” because we can use our social media power for good, too, by stopping these online fallacies before they get shared hundreds or millions of times. Because do you REALLY want to be sharing untrue things as though they’re really?! I know I don’t.
  • Consider whether sharing it is necessary/valuable – now, far be it from me to try to dictate what anyone else shares or reposts on their own social media accounts, because I couldn’t even if I wanted to. So instead, I’ll just say that *I* will give serious consideration to whether there is a value or a usefulness in passing along that inflammatory post [even if it IS actually true] to continue to whip people up about it. Because if it’s not something I truly believe my circle is going to run out and DO SOMETHING ABOUT, then I’m not so sure I see the necessity of getting everyone’s righteous indignation into a full-on froth. Which brings me to another thing – if I AM going to try to engage your emotions into overdrive, and believe that is an honourable action, I will suggest something you can DO about it. Because there’s nothing wrong with encouraging people to act – write to your politicians, donate to an important cause, go out and join the demonstration for a cause you believe is just, and I have actually done that. But to just post something to get my, and your knickers in a twist on Facebook? Yeah, probably not.

I won’t change THE world by committing to these “rules” for social media sharing [again, I’m not that important], but what’s that quote:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~Margaret Mead

So, what the heck – let’s give it a go, and see what happens.

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | October 17, 2014

People Lessons Learned

PeopleLately I’ve been reflecting on people. The team I work in has been experiencing a larger than normal amount of change recently, and as the communications person, I’ve had a role to play in helping people manage that, both a formally and informally. This has reminded me of a few basic truths that I think are worth noting because not only are they, I believe, universal, but also they will help anyone who interacts with people [and is there anyone who doesn’t?!] to be a little more successful if we keep them in mind as we go about our daily work.

Most people mean well – frequently people do things that to other people may *appear* to be intentionally irritating or difficult. But my experience has proven that 9 times out of 10 those actions are in no way about you [or in this case, me]. The vast majority of the time, other people are just trying to get the things done that they need to do. The truth of the matter is that for most of us, and most of the time, it’s all about US! We are only really thinking about what we need to do, when we need to do it, and how to navigate the inevitable obstacles to doing it that we face. Nowhere in that list are we thinking about how our doing those things will affect other people around us, unless those people are directly related in some way to us, i.e. family or friends. This isn’t in any way malicious! It’s just a factor of our crazy-busy world and the multiple competing demands on all of us.

Lesson: don’t automatically assume malicious intent from someone’s behaviour. Give people the benefit of the doubt and ask for clarification before reacting.

Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about – this is a famous quote attributed to Plato, but I have found it to be surprisingly true almost across the board. Particularly in a work setting, most people try to behave in a professional way. Our society frowns on bringing any personal issues into the workplace, so generally people don’t. But just because it isn’t politically correct to talk about your sick child, or your elderly parent, or the financial difficulties, or a myriad of other issues at work, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t weighing on someone’s mind, and affecting the way they interact with people they come into contact with.

Lesson: be kind to others, even when that is not your automatic response to something. It costs you nothing, and could mean a world of difference to someone who is struggling.

 It isn’t a crime not to instantly understand everything – in the corporate world, where I have spent most of my communications career, everything always moves extremely quickly. The demands on employees are endless, complex and challenging. If someone is only expected to do their own particular work, that is the exception rather than the rule. Instead, most people are required to do their day-to-day work, participate on special [often unexpected] projects, provide information to colleagues as requested, and any number of “other duties as required”. Is it any wonder that people may struggle to digest all the things they are asked to understand? Sometimes we forget that not everyone takes in information at the same pace and become annoyed when someone asks more questions, or requests more detail. Instead, let’s see that as the opportunity it is – this is our people WANTING TO GET IT! The very fact that people care enough to tell us that they don’t quite understand means they care enough to ask, which is great news!

Lesson: provide more explanation, not less, and do so graciously. Sometimes people need a little more time, or a little more detail to fully grasp what we may be asking of them. Try to be patient, and help people to get where you need them to go by giving them as much information, as much detail, and as much explanation as they need. It will benefit everyone in the long run to help people help the business to be successful.

You don’t know everything – sometimes when you are in the position of having access to more information than the average employee does, you can fall into the trap of thinking you know it all, that you know best. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in 15+ years in the corporate world, it’s that there is ALWAYS more for me to learn, and anyone could be the teacher I need. No matter how much information we have, we still can’t know everything all the time. There are always going to be aspects of a situation that the people in the trenches, who are actually doing the work will have a better handle on than you do. They are hands-on with whatever it is, so if they offer you a different perspective, or more information to consider, LISTEN!

Lesson: everyone has something to share that could add value. Cultivate an attitude of humility and openness, so that people feel comfortable offering information to you. Become that person everyone feels they can talk to about anything. As a communicator, there is no greater gift than having this kind of reputation.

Your sense of humour is the most important tool you’ll ever have – the world has become a complicated and often difficult place and if you are anything like me, there are days when you despair for the continuation of our species! But despair is a depressing place to live, so I make a conscious effort to look for and enjoy things to smile or laugh about every day. Even if the extent of that is a quick look at a Dilbert comic, or Facebook videos of kittens and puppies, finding something to uplift your day can make a world of difference in your overall ability to maintain equilibrium in the face of challenges. Personally, I like to laugh at myself, and there are multiple opportunities to do that on a daily basis, I assure you!

Lesson: Find those things that make you feel happy, as long as it isn’t at the expense of others, and lean on them when tough times come along. Laughter truly is the best medicine for almost everything. It’s hard to feel bad when you are enjoying a full-on belly laugh.

So these are the lessons I’ve learned that have helped me to maintain serenity – most days! – in the face of challenges. I hope one or two of them will help others as well.

Being a collector of quotes, it seemed appropriate to end this post with one of my favourites, from Mother Teresa, which fits the subject at hand quite well:

People are often unreasonable, and self-centered; FORGIVE THEM ANYWAY. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives; BE KIND ANYWAY. If you are honest people may deceive you; BE HONEST ANYWAY. If you find happiness people may be jealous; BE HAPPY ANYWAY. The good you do may be forgotten tomorrow; DO GOOD ANYWAY. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough; GIVE YOUR BEST ANYWAY.

Okay, your turn! What people lessons have you learned, that the rest of us could add to our toolkits? Please comment and share your ideas.

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | July 28, 2014

Good Grammar Matters – REALLY!!!

Bad grammar 2Recently “Weird Al” Yankovich released a new album of his parodies of famous songs. One of them is particularly close to my heart as someone whose job is all about communicating. It’s called “Word Crimes” and while it parodies [hilariously, I might add] the song “Blurred Lines” it’s all about – as the title suggests – bad grammar. The song, as are all Weird Al creations, is absolutely hilarious! But it also is quite clever, and makes a point – a very important point – which, as someone who communicates for a living is in fact what I like to call a “big doo-da deal”.

Yes, if you haven’t already figured it out, this will be a rant [but just a little one!] on the increasingly common lack of correct grammar in both verbal and written communications in recent years. It makes my teeth hurt when people use bad grammar, and the advent of Twitter and texting has really made it worse. I have heard all the excuses for why good grammar isn’t a big deal – here are just the most egregious:

  • With texting, Twitter and Instagram, nobody actually EXPECTS perfect grammar anymore” Yes, they DO! Even if you slack off in your own private texts, I promise you that people out in the world – even those who are also texting and Tweeting – WILL think less of you if your grammar is terrible out around the interwebs. Because another feature of the social media world is that nothing is ever really private. You never know who will forward or share what these days. So err on the safe side and use correct grammar in all your communication – taking that approach won’t ever hurt. “She always uses proper grammar, I hate that”, said no one ever.
  • Eh. Mostly my grammar’s okay. If I slip up occasionally, nobody will notice.” Wrong! We notice. Most people know when they hear or read something that’s incorrect, grammar-wise. They may not even be able to put their [NOT they’re or there, please note] finger on exactly why it’s [NOT its] wrong, but they know it is. And those little grammar mistakes echo inside our heads when we hear them. They distract us from the message you are actually trying to deliver, while we try to figure out why what you just said isn’t right. It’s hard enough to get your message across successfully without adding unnecessary distractions, isn’t it?

But, if you still aren’t convinced it matters whether you know the difference between “It’s and Its” or “Their, There and They’re”, here are three BIG reasons you really WANT to care about your grammar skills:

  1. You may NOT get the job you want –  No less than the Harvard Business Review has run articles – here’s one – confirming that companies want people – even people who won’t “officially” be writing in the job they’re applying for – to have basic grammar skills, and won’t hire people who don’t.
  2. You may make less money – do I have your attention now?! Another article I came across, here, we learn that a study of LinkedIn profiles showed that those with fewer errors in their profiles correlated with more promotions. And since promotions mean more money . . . well, enough said.
  3. People think you are less intelligent when your grammar is bad – you may not THINK you care what people think of you, but really, there are some areas where we’d like people to think well of us, now aren’t there? That attractive person of the opposite sex you just met at a business association meeting, for instance. Or meeting your partner’s parents for the first time, say. Or any group of people where intelligent conversations are happening. Wouldn’t you rather make it easy for people to think well of you, as opposed to making them think you are ignorant or uneducated? And you’d probably be surprised to discover just how MANY people categorize you as not-very-bright [I’m trying to be kind, here] when your grammar sucks. I came across this Yahoo Questions thread while I was researching this post and you’ll see that pretty much everyone who commented on this random post agreed that you are judged less intelligent when your grammar is consistently bad. Why would anyone intentionally want to create that impression?

Now, I appreciate that English is a bit of a nut-job where languages are concerned. Because it’s basically a mish-mash of stolen bits of a number of other languages, the rules are all over the map. So, yes, it does take a little work to keep things straight. But here’s where our new online world is a benefit – there’s an app for everything – including grammar!!! Here are a few you might want to download that will help you with using proper grammar [there are many more to choose from – these are just some I personally like]:

So please, I’m begging [and I almost NEVER beg!] use proper English in your communications. If you don’t want to do it for me, or your co-workers, or your friends, do it because you want to be promoted and make more money. I don’t really care what your reason is, I just have my fingers crossed that you will take this heart-felt and kindly meant advice . After all, you don’t want to end up on the receiving end of a Weird Al parody – do you?! 🙂

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | May 28, 2014

Words make me happy!

Happy

Everybody has atrocious days. It’s an inevitable fact of life. I had one today, in fact, and, as I cogitate on things, I imagine everyone deals with such heinous days in their own astute ways.

Me, I’m a writer, dyed-in-the-wool, and down-to-the-bone, so when I’m crotchety after an especially irksome day – you know, the kind where supercilious people seem determined to thwart me at every turn? – I envisage some of the words that make me smile, and indubitably my mood improves.

I think of the words that are really fun to say, and have gargantuan, extravagant meanings like:

  • Jubilant [the uncontrollable, bouncy, bubbly kind]
  • Snarky [which is what I can quickly become when treated with superciliousness –you’ve been warned!]
  • Omnipotent [like “Q” from Star Trek]
  • Calliope [a two-fer: both  a musical instrument, and a goddess muse of epic poetry]

Words aren’t the superlative answer for everyone, of course. The eloquencetactility and just plain wallop of just the right, and therefore sublime words will always be my quintessential go-to!

How about you? What’s your answer to turn an abominable day into one that is utterly resplendent? Tell me in the comments. And, if, in a serendipitous turn of events, it just so happens that yours is words too, share some of your absolute favourites – I’d love to know what they are.

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | May 19, 2014

“What’s your process?” Um . . .

writing process“What’s your process?” I was asked this question by a co-worker recently, and it took me very much by surprise. In fact, I was actually made speechless for a couple of minutes, and those who know me know that’s not an easy thing to accomplish.

First, a bit of context for the question and when and why it was asked. The co-worker in question has recently become a member of the team on which I work, and was looking for some advice on communicating effectively as our team works on delivering some big and exciting projects. Since I am the communications person, it’s not SO shocking that someone might ask me for advice on how to communicate successfully.

The question about my process was intended to gather strategies and ideas for creating communication as part of accomplishing other objectives. And as hugely flattered as I was to have a colleague consider my approach to creating communication something worthy of emulating, being asked to explain how I do it put me in a bit of a conundrum, because I realized on hearing the question that I’ve never really thought about doing what I do in terms of a “process” that could be easily explained and shared with someone else.

After more than 15 years as a corporate communications person, I’ve gotten to the point where I sort of just know what needs to be done, based on the objective, and I start doing it. Of course, THAT isn’t very helpful to someone else! So we worked through the subject a bit more, and that conversation helped me to crystallize some basics, which allowed me to realize that while I don’t have a “process” per se, there are some fundamental and consistent things about my approach to communicating that might be of interest to others, so once I realized what they were, I decided to share them here for any help they might be to others doing this crazy fun job called communications!

 

  • Remember that you’re dealing with PEOPLE, not “audiences” – if I were FORCED to identify just one thing that I always do, and that is the foundation of how I create communication and counsel my clients and partners, this would be it. My biggest pet peeve about doing communications in some of the organizations I’ve worked in, is the nutty – and unsupportable if your intent is results! – propensity to refuse to acknowledge that the people who have a relationship with your business, whether internal or external, are human beings, not target markets, or demographics or any other artificial descriptor. People don’t like to be talked at, nor do they like to be lumped in with a bunch of other groups in how we talk to them. Regardless of what demographic they may fit into, they are all humans, and if you communicate with them in the same way you’d talk to someone in a coffee shop, that is, respectfully and simply and clearly, you’ll have much better results, even if you don’t get everything you want all the time.

 

  • Use straight talk real language – I will never draft a communication filled with corporate-speak, jargon, weasel-words or acronyms. Further, I WILL edit out any of those sins in anything someone else creates and passes off to me. As a follow-up to number one, people respond to straight-talk, and absolutely do NOT react well to double-speak. My communication style is based on the fact that if we as an organization feel these people are important enough to communicate with at all, then they are also important enough to be respected by telling them what the situation is, what we’re gonna do about it, and why using honest, clear specific language and information is non-negotiable. It’s not always easy, but it is just that simple.

 

  • Get out and ASK for feedback – while people will respond to straight-talk, they won’t necessarily seek you out to give you their perspectives, especially if there has been any bad communication behaviour in the past that’s impacted trust. As a communicator, I consider it a big part of my job to be a bridge between leaders and the people they need to communicate with, whether that’s employees, customers, or other stakeholders. The best way to have a consistent, accurate understanding of what the people are thinking, feeling and doing is to ask! But you have to be willing to go to them, rather than expecting them to come to you. Being visible, accessible and easy to talk to is a key tool in my communication tool-box and I make sure it stays well-oiled, even if my “oil” is more likely to be a Starbuck’s coffee card, so I can buy the liquid to get a conversation started.

 

  • Be willing to fight for what’s right – asking for the feedback from the people we communicate with is important, but the actions we should take based on that feedback isn’t always necessarily what leaders want to hear and/or do. So the final part of my approach to communication is to be willing to push for doing the right thing. I try to be as respectful with leadership as I am with everyone else, but it’s my responsibility as the communicator to advocate for taking the actions that will put us where we say we want to be as an organization. Sometimes those actions are unpleasant, costly or complicated, but if we aren’t going to take them, then the question becomes: “Why did we communicate about something we aren’t prepared to take responsive action on?” And asking that question really is part of the job of a communicator. Of course, we don’t just get to ask the question – we are also responsible to have a plan for how to do what we’re advocating for. So being a successful communicator also means being a diplomat, so you can present challenging information and complicated action plans in ways that will make sense to, and be reasonable for leaders. It’s a fine line to walk, but it’s great as a challenge to keep me thoughtful and sharp.

 

I could probably go on, but really, if I’m giving a list of the items I always think about and do when I’m creating communication, these four are the pillars of my structure. I don’t feel I can be successful without all four of these being part of the work all the time.

So that’s my “process”. I would love to hear about yours! Please comment and tell me how you approach your communicator role. Thanks for reading!

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | April 10, 2014

Books-into-movies – they make me crazy!

Books to moviesI have a rule about books that are made into movies – if I have ANY inkling at ALL – and I mean even the vaguest conception in a “parallel Dr. Who kind of universe” inkling – that I might EVER want to read the book, then I absolutely will not see the movie UNTIL I have read the book. Because it drives me completely over the edge when I see the pale imitation version of a three to four hundred page book that is what the film industry, apparently in some sort of drug-addled haze, or psychotic-break, sees as the key aspects of a story.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE MOVIES! I see one almost every weekend AT A THEATRE! I also watch a lot of DVDs so I am absolutely not anti-movie. I don’t even mind that no movie can possibly include everything in a hundreds of pages long book – I get it, movies are expensive. There are multi-million-dollar salaries for the stars, there are best-boy grips [whatever the HELL that job actually is!] there are advertising costs [which we all know involve the kind of dollars that overthrow small countries for one lousy TV commercial], and all kinds of other inexplicable expenses, so you have to make choices. I get it! That’s fine.

But really, if you’re going to make a film about a book, especially if it’s a fairly popular book, that lots of people have read, call me crazy, but would it kill you to actually READ THE BOOK – or at least have someone else read it and tell you what happens – I’m sure you have people for that, right?! Because I am here to tell you that some of the movies that have been made based on books I’ve read have borne absolutely no discernable resemblance to anything that happened in that book. I mean, if you’re just going to make up almost the whole story anyway, why did you go to the trouble of wooing the author and buying the rights to THAT STORY?! Don’t you have stables of screenwriters locked in an attic somewhere churing out movie premises?? Why brutalize an existing story and characters that thousands, sometimes millions of people adore and feel practically related to? WHY???

Related to this, is when they either fundamentally change, or leave out major plot points included in the book but use most of the rest of the story. Do you people not understand the concept of a story-arc, and character-development? Honestly, if the main character ends up murdering someone, and when you see the movie all the stuff that made her turn homicidal is nowhere to be found, it leaves the watcher [who’s read the book, and KNOWS all that stuff] wanting to hunt down whoever is responsible for the travesty made of a book I absolutely loved, and beat them to death with my Raisinettes box – and I could do it, too so don’t test me!

I can tolerate a pale movie version of a story if I’ve read the book, because I can erase the bad people’s version from my mind and revert to the awesome book with all the good bits in the right places. But it just makes it better if the movie version is a good, faithful representation of the book, because then I’m happy-squared about a story I dived into and didn’t want to come back out of. It’s the little things.

So seriously, Hollywood, please stop messing up the books I love by making your odd and confusing ideas of a film version of them. Because I like movies. Not as much as I love reading books, but I like them. If you’re going to insist on making movies of books, could you at LEAST ensure that the most critical aspects of the story are MENTIONED in the movie?! I don’t think that’s too much to ask, I really don’t.

Thanks!

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