Posted by: Kristen Ridley | November 3, 2010

How to make a communicator violent in one easy step!

fight bearWe communicators are generally a pretty sanguine bunch. No really, we ARE!! We have to be – after all, we’re frequently the lone voice battling in the wilderness against rotten grammar, obnoxious [and too many] adjectives in the corporate prose, and 246 colleagues in other departments who think they can do our jobs better than we can [just so we’re crystal clear – they CAN’T!]

I’ve been doing this gig for a while now, and to entertain myself, and, some days to keep myself from becoming a homicidal maniac, I’ve been collecting “the statements” – you know what I’m talking about! Those things that other people in our universe say to us that make the blood pound in our ears, make our fists curl up at our sides, and cause us to bare our teeth in what savvy people would recognize as the snarl before the ripping out of your throat, but what our frequently clueless colleagues mistakenly believe to be a smile.

I thought I’d make a list of them and then see if anyone else wants to add in others that I may not have come across yet. For catharsis purposes, under each of the statements I’ve first added what happens inside my head when I hear these statements, and then, how I ACTUALLY respond to them – you know to be collaborative, professional . . . yadda, yadda, yadda!

“Can you just ‘do your thing’ with this and tidy it up so we can send it out?” [“this” being a seemingly random, disjointed bunch of words that the colleague who handed it to you just vomited up out of the gaping void abyss that is their brain].

What happens inside my head:
Why CERTAINLY!! Let me just put on my tinfoil hat, and open my direct line to the aliens for guidance on how to turn the refuse you call “communication” into something that the humans here on earth can actually identify as language. Say, while I’m at it, would you like me to ask them to adjust your anal probe?

What I actually say:
Well, this is a good start. I want to be sure that I am maintaining the intent of your message and connecting it to the business objectives in a clear and compelling way. Let’s chat for about 10 minutes so I can ask some clarifying questions to solidify my understanding of what you want this message to accomplish. That way we will make sure that I get a good draft prepared and you get the results you’re after.

“We don’t need to communicate about this. Employees don’t need to know about it and telling them will just distract them from doing their jobs.” [This one usually rears its ugly head when there’s something negative happening that is affecting, or is going to affect the business]

What happens inside my head:
Um, yeah. I hate to be the one to break into your happy little alternate reality there, but the fact is the employees ALREADY know about this situation. Guess what?? They actually have access to the news, the internet . . . you know? The WORLD?! So they’re ALREADY thinking and talking about this, and it just might be a good idea for them to have the business’s take on what’s happening, rather than taking the word of “randomgoof.com” or “twitterbabbler46” about what it means.

What I actually say:
This issue is out there, both in the news [I give examples if available] and on social media sites [examples here too] so at least some of our employees are already talking about this issue. I think it is in our best interest to give them the company’s position on the issue and try to correct any inaccurate information floating around. By connecting with our people directly and honestly about this, we also demonstrate our respect for our employees and show them that we value their loyalty to the business. We want and need our people to support us during this difficulty, because if our own people are on our side out in the world, we have a much better chance to mitigate and move past the issue successfully with our customers and external stakeholders.

“Do an impromptu Q&A?!” [typically stated by an executive or leader to whom you’ve just suggested this idea, and delivered with a level of horrified incredulity directly on par with reactions to the bloody climax of “Saw XI” ]

What happens inside my head:
God forbid you should actually have a genuine dialogue, risk being asked hard questions, and – gasp! – interact with REAL PEOPLE!!! Do you think we should have cleaning staff at the ready, in case your head actually does explode???

What I actually say:
Well, I know it can be challenging to do Q&A without pre-vetting the questions, but doing so really shows a level of openness and demonstrates that our leadership wants to hear the issues in the business. I can help to prep you on some of the likely questions you’ll hear, and you don’t have to have an answer to everything on the spot. It’s perfectly acceptable to say you don’t know the answer to something but that you’ll find out and report back. As long as we DO get the answer and share it, people will respect the honesty. Doing Q&As build a tremendous amount of goodwill and support among employees. I really recommend doing it on a regular basis.

“Thanks for the feedback, but I’d like you to release it as I wrote it.” [I get this after I’ve been provided with a draft message someone else has prepared, and which I’ve spent hours on to remove the extraneous words, correct the atrocious grammatical errors, and re-work the “corporate doublespeak” into clear language.]

What happens inside my head:
“Why yes – I’m sure you WOULD like me to release it the way you wrote it, since doing that would allow you to pretend that using “strategic” 48 times, “leverage” 19 times, and basically saying nothing more concrete about the issue than “leadership has everything under control” means you’ve “communicated with our employees” without ACTUALLY communicating anything, to anyone. However, if you think I’m putting that pile of pap out under my auspices, then you are crazier than Octomom, Mel Gibson, and Snooki combined!”

What I actually say:
Dick, I’d be happy to discuss my suggested revisions with you some more, but I really feel that putting out the message with the original draft is going to give employees an unclear message and create more difficulties than it resolves. If I understand the intention behind releasing this message correctly, we are trying to educate our people about “x”. In order to do that effectively, we need to provide specific information, and a clear understanding of the next steps the business is taking. I don’t believe the message in draft one gets us there. Can we discuss this some more before we release it?

“Honestly, I don’t understand the employees’ lack of appreciation/understanding/support for the information we’ve shared here.” [This one appears after you’ve been forced – very often at gunpoint – to put out a communication that either doesn’t say anything, or says things that everybody in the company – except the people who instigated it – knows is B.S. and the reaction is either crickets, i.e. nothing, or anonymous, grapevine sniping about – surprise! – what a bunch of B.S. that message was.]

What happens inside my head:
I KNOW, right?! What a bunch of ungrateful whiners!! Who the heck do they think they ARE, demanding that we actually TELL THEM what’s going on around here so they can help the business succeed, instead of just feeding them pabulum, patting them on the head and telling them to get back to work. It’s just disgusting the entitlement mentality we’re up against!!

What I actually say:
I think that we could have offered more detail about the situation, and what we are doing/going to do about it. The message we put out was extremely generic, and I don’t necessarily think that the employees felt informed by it. If we want buy-in and support from our people, my strong recommendation is that we provide more detail about the situation and the actual actions we’ve taken/are taking, and that we ask for their suggestions and invite them to share any information they have heard about the issue outside. Initiating a genuine two-way conversation, and guaranteeing no negative repercussions from people speaking up will go a long way to generating increased engagement.

Let me just say that I understand that the “inside my head” sections are snarky. In my own defense, I don’t EVER say these things to my business partners, because I do have respect for them, and the challenges that they are facing. I recognize that my job as a communicator is to facilitate many conflicting components into effective, honest, useful communications to, and from, our business. But a girl’s gotta find a way not to lose her mind, and for me, that way is sarcasm inside my own head. Like Vegas, what’s inside my head, stays inside my head . . . well, okay, it did until I posted it here on my blog, anyway. But it’s okay, I only have about 4 readers, and that’s on a good day.

And P.S.: if you’re a communicator, and you say you’ve never thought these same sorts of things when confronted by these sorts of situations, then all I have to say to you is: “Liar, liar, pants on fire! Nose is long as a telephone wire!!”

If you’re brave enough [remember – there are only 4 readers, and they’re all communicators too, so what could it hurt?!] feel free to contribute the statement that makes YOU violent in one easy step. I’d love to hear others’ flash-points – we gotta stick together fellow communicators!!

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Responses

  1. 1) I have never heard “Nose is long as a telephone wire”! LOL!!!

    2) Oh, you capture my mental thoughts perfectly.

    3) Here is one: “I don’t think we really need to speak to the employees via video. E-mail will be fine.”

    What happens in my head: Rrriiiggghhhtttt. Employees are going through so much change and the economy is down but you can just sit in your ivory tower and not be seen as actually caring. I’m trying to make you connect with your employees so they will believe in the new direction of the business, idgit!”

    What I actually say: Perhaps we could discuss this some more? With so much happening to the business and the economy being what it is, this is the time to be more visible to employees and increase messaging and conversations. As this is a global business, video is a way to be visible without traveling.

  2. Thanks for weighing in Susan! That’s a great addition to our list! And you make a good point about helping and encouraging our businesses to consider effective use of the new opportunities to communicate that today’s technological advances offer us.

  3. Mine is, “can you add me to the review queue”? NO. NO I #*$(#)ING CANNOT. (In my head.) Because seriously, YOU DO NOT NEED TO REVIEW ANYTHING. YOU ARE NOTA DECISIONMAKER (yes, i’m yelling in my head — my caps lock isn’t stuck). What I actuallyl say: I’m happy to give you a heads up before this goes out (translation: I’ll let you see it seconds before it goes out to the rest of the world because of your enormous ego, but I don’t want to imply in any way that you can actually change it).

  4. Thanks for commenting Amy. This is one I haven’t gotten but it sounds like you handle it with aplomb, so good for you!!

  5. Amy, I just did that tonight. That last-minute heads-up. Guilty! Kristen, I’m sharing this through my social media channels. Maybe you’ll get more readers!

  6. Thanks for your comment and your support Bonnie! I appreciate anyone’s sharing my little musings with others they think might like to join the conversations and general silliness we have around here!

  7. “Let’s just run this up the flag pole first”

  8. Oh, the infamous “flag pole”!!! Thanks Mike – I think most of us have come up against that one. I know I have some creative suggestions for what “they” might want to do with their flag pole, but this is a family blog [okay, no, it really isn’t, but even I don’t want to use that sort of language so early on a Monday!!] so I’ll refrain. πŸ˜‰

  9. This is great. In fact, I blogged about it and we will tweet about it too. The one I love is: “Let’s get some further input into this email … I have 42 people on an advisory committee that I want to send it out to. We’ll need their feedback in an hour, can you make sure everyone weighs in and this goes out by XX am?

    (But … when considering true change in the organization, the response is … this is an executive decision and should not be put out for input. We will decide what’s right for the organization!)

    Sigh.

  10. That’s great Ruth! And isn’t that the truth?! Input is only valuable in some organizations when it doesn’t really impact what “management” is going to do anyway.

    Sigh . . . all we can do is keep fighting the good fight!

  11. My “favorite” is when a committee of 15 believes that they need to review my releases before putting them out… becuase they somehow believe that they’re responsible for backlash. Not that the president or any Executive members are part of this review… just staff people who think they’re a lot more imrpotant than they really are…

  12. Hi Erin! Thanks for dropping by. And you’re right – if only we could actually make these people responsible to deal with the results of communication the organization puts out! If they did have to handle fall-out, it might open their eyes to the realities the communicator has to deal with.

  13. How about the non-communitive director who says, “I’m not comfortable with it” to everything you write, and when asked to explain says, “I liked it better before.” The internal dialogue starts with, ‘let’s play 20 questions.’

  14. LOVED IT!!! OMG … I’m not alone with these thoughts.

  15. Kristen,
    This is hilarious! Thanks for the warning – I’m part of a small business, requiring that we do most everything ourselves, with support from a few key consultants. The challenges you cover here are helpful and the snarky parts are good for a chuckle.

  16. “Can you just ‘wordsmith’ this for me and send it out?” (In my head: Well, let me see if I can find my dadgum ‘smithy’ apron, and an anvil so my keyboard and mouse can beat some sense out of this incoherent drivel you call communication.)

  17. “Can you just ‘pretty this up’ for me?”
    What I think — You mean you want me to package those 20 pages of mindnumbingly dull legal jargon you’ve strung together and put it in a packet with a pretty bow so our customers might read — and understand it?
    What I say– You mean you want me to package those 20 pages of mindnumbingly dull legal jargon you’ve strung together and put it in a packet with a pretty bow so our customers might read — and understand it? Yup, in my dreams!

  18. Elaine: please check back in with us and let us know how our pithy advice works out in a small business, won’t you? Speaking for myself, I’ve always worked in larger corporate environments, so your unique perspective would be very interesting.

  19. Larry: Yes, I’d like to have an anvil on some days too, except it isn’t the incoherent drivel I’d be beating some sense out of! πŸ˜‰

  20. Rosetta: Thanks for your comment, it made me laugh out loud!!!

  21. “Well. Let us do a press release, then.”

    No matter what.

  22. We get asked to “work our magic” a lot at my workplace. In fact, I have a star-filled magic wand that I keep on my keyboard for those days when I just want to say “poof – it’s done!”

    • Sherri: I’ve heard “work your magic” quite often, too – often after I’m given a list of disjointed data or sentences that someone fancies is enough to craft a message or report content, ad copy, or whatever is needed. It would indeed take a magic wand to sort through that ____ and produce compelling, readable prose! Love the magic wand idea. Maybe a good prop to bring to a meeting if those attending have any sense of humor at all.

  23. Hmmm…you make it sound like your job really sucks…

  24. Sherri – I love the sound of your magic wand! Where can I get one of those?

  25. Hi Lou – actually this post is a cumulative list compiled throughout my nearly 15 years doing communications in a variety of different organizations.

    Overall, I love what I do, and in fact the post I had originally planned to publish today [until I got a cry from the wilderness from a fellow communicator that led to the post I actually published] was a list of what’s great about being a communicator – if you’re interested check back later in the week for that.

    The truth is, like any other job I imagine, there are good days and bad days. My way of dealing with the crazy stuff that happens in my work is to poke fun at it, and be silly with it, so I can laugh, get some perspective, and then keep on moving forward to get things done.

  26. How about this one? “The information you sent to the media is incorrect.” How could that be, you wonder, since you got approval of all the details you were releasing from the powers-that-be before you sent it to print. You’re wondering where you made a gigantic error and envisioning how cold it’s going to be in the unemployment line in January, when your boss says, “Oh, we just decided to change things up a bit after you released the information. It won’t matter. People don’t care if things get changed once in a while. You can just prepare a second memo to explain.”

    If I had been paid a dollar for every “second memo,” “second press release” and “second story” I have prepared during my 18-year career as a communicator, I’d be independently wealthy, could donate my word smithy anvil to the people who always want to change my copy after it goes to print and sail off into the proverbial sunset. And every time I have to send out amended copy, I can’t help but think how foolish it makes me–and my company–look.

    Here’s another of my favorites. “There’s still time to get something out to the media. Just come up with a statement for all of us to approve.” Never mind that our area newspapers are all weeklies, and the statement/release I’m being asked to draft is for an event that’s happening tomorrow. Which means that by the time the information is published, the information will be five days old–and no one will care. Yes, all of the local press is just waiting on tenterhooks for news from us!! NOT!

  27. I love “we’ll send that out once legal gets a look at it.” and then the changes that come back have nothing to do with legal, but more with someones opinion of whether or not 3 miles is close enough to the beach to say that a community is “close to beaches.” or should it be “near to beaches.”

  28. Judy: Oh I’ve “been there and done that” in trying to help my organization understand that the media has its own agenda, which rarely aligns with the one our senior people are working towards!

    I think that challenge is one that, if nothing else, will help to keep many communicators gainfully employed for years to come. As to whether we’ll ever make substantive progress with creating a genuine understanding between corporate leaders and media members . . . well, I wouldn’t hold my breath on that!

    Thanks for weighing in!

  29. My favorite is: “That’s not what I had in mind.” But they can seldom provide any definition about what they DID have in mind. Uh, mind reader wasn’t in my job description but it would really be a helpful skill.

    • Ah yes. My absolute favorite. And then pressed for what they had in mind, they answer with something along the lines of “Well, that’s what you’re here for right? I don’t have time! I’m far too busy and important to set aside a few minutes to make it clear what I’m looking for!”

  30. I have to disagree with your first point. I love it when they say “just do your thing!” That’s exactly what I want. Let me do my job.

  31. Paula: Oh yes – the “read my mind” thing!! I’ve had that experience too. Luckily, most of us have some level of interviewing expertise. Long live the “clarifying question” because I’ve found it’s a life-saver when you’re being asked to read someone’s mind.

  32. From a client: “Can you ‘do’ a news release on the changes on our website? Alt: Can you do a news release on the new product feature?

    IMH (In my head): “Duh, no. You added a new page/section to your website (Alt: new feature that all your competitors already have, that doesn’t work well, and that only a handful of customers really care about).

    OL (Out loud): Let’s set up a meeting/call to discuss this at your earliest convenience. Give me some dates/times when you’re available.

    Result: Three weeks later: still waiting for the meeting dates. Patience is a wonderful thing πŸ˜‰

  33. GoToGuy: would I be correct in assuming from your comment that you don’t have to get anyone’s agreement or approval AFTER you “do your thing”??

    My item on that was predicated on the fact that with so little guidance on what the client/colleague is envisioning as the final product, it will be a lot of painful back-and-forth after I “do my thing” in a vacuum.

    If I knew I could just write whatever I think is best and immediately send it out through whatever venue I deemed appropriate, then I would 100% agree with your comment. I haven’t been lucky enough in most of my past jobs to have that situation. But it WOULD be nice!! And if you have that, then I certainly envy you!

  34. I love to be asked whether a publication will be printed and mailed “on schedule” after I’ve spent three weeks urging the powers that be to get their final edits to me so that my formerly-on-time-but-now-overdue publication files can be SENT to the printer in the first place.

    In my head: What part of “I need it today if you want this to go out on time” do you not understand, Director of Procrastination?

    Out loud: If you want this to go out on time, I need it today. (See what I did there? Wordsmith, indeed.)

    • Oooh, I love this too. I have to drop everything else because of a HUGE RUSH for a press release… and then it sits in approval limbo for two weeks, when it’s no longer timely and developing events have since made it dated and irrelevant. So then it ends up being shelved, or being sent “straight to archive” on the website because it’s now an embarrassment to publish through proper channels.

  35. Chris: I love it!! “Director of Procrastination” indeed! I’m quite sure I’ve worked with that particular executive in more than one past job.

    I like the way you handle it too – a nice blending of the “inside my head” and the “out loud”. Well done, and thanks for weighing in.

  36. Kristen – I love you! That is all.

  37. Chris,
    My boss is the Chief Director of Procrastination! I go through the once-on-time-but-now-late routine whenever our company newsletter has to be written and printed. It’s really frustrating to be two weeks late with everything when I’ve given everyone at least three weeks before deadline to get me their information. The normal response from the higher-ups? “We pay our printer a lot of money to do this job for us. The least they can do is give us a little flexibility.” Never mind that we’re just one of their 200 clients. It really is enough to rot your socks. And believe me, if my socks ever rot, I know a bunch of tardy executives I’ll be glad to send them to!

    • Judy, I am now tempted to visit a psychiatrist to see if you are somehow an alter ego I created to deal with my stress. The draft currently languishing in my Director of Procrastination’s inbox — the very one which compelled me to blog and purge today — is also a newsletter, AND I just remarked to my husband last night that it’s like my boss doesn’t realize (or care?) that we’re just one of hundreds of clients at our printer’s! It’s really nice to find kindred spirits to chat with while my “timely” newsletter dies a slow death in C-suite limbo…

  38. …and I thought I was the only one with the “Mean Girls” this-is-how-we’d-settle-in-it-the-jungle scenario going on. Glad to know I’m not alone. (Maybe we can all form a network to get a discount with a therapist????)

  39. jblairbrown: You definitely are NOT alone and thanks for joining the conversation!

    For myself, I’m more about “embracing my demons” and, also, I don’t think I’d be patient enough to sit still for therapy, but that’s a great idea about getting a group rate – πŸ™‚

  40. Kristen: You’re probably right. Besides, it wouldn’t bode well for the therapist.

  41. With these and other situations….

    What happens inside my head:
    Ugh! This person is a nightmare. I’m going to write an email about why he/she is so crazy, why the ideas are so wrong and what we should actually do. Then, I’ll send that angry yet sane email to my friend/colleague or person who knows PR and is generally on my side, because it feels good to hit send. Then, together, my friend and I will mock and client and talk about how crazy he/she is. And then I will call the client back or write the real email giving some better alternatives and making my official recommendation.

    What I actually say: Oh, that’s interesting and something we can consider, but I have some other ideas. Let me do some more research and brainstorm some other ideas and then we can touch base about it again in a while.

  42. abbesroad: YES!! Thank you for getting my point!! This is EXACTLY my point with my silly and over-the-top post!

    It’s precisely because we have our friends and fellow-communicators to vent out our frustrations, that we are then able to go back to our business partners or clients and offer them professional, helpful advice.

  43. […] the idiosyncracies that go along with this job, [for proof, see last week's well-received post: How to make a communicator violent in one easy step]. But the truth is I absolutely cannot imagine doing anything else for a living, and I […]

  44. I enjoyed reading your blog, Kristen, and may become a consistent reader–especially if you tell us more about what goes on inside your head.

  45. Great, cathartic list.

    My favorite, “We’ve all done writing.” This was said frequently by a cocky marketing VP from my first job who couldn’t understand why his every communication whim couldn’t be accomplished by the end of the day. I was too early in my career to assure him that “the PR girls” as he liked to call our three-person department, were on the verge of being “done writing” for him for all time.

  46. Bill: I’m so glad you stopped by, and that you enjoyed the post.

    I feel I can safely promise that there will be more of what goes on inside my head in future, although I do need to balance off at least occasionally with more temperate posts, else the nice men in white coats may come looking for me!

  47. Jacque: thanks for commenting. Yes, that “anyone can do communications” thing is a great addition to our list. I’ve heard that one myself more times than I care to admit.

    Your VP sounds like . . . well, something else! He’s darned lucky “the PR girls” didn’t have him bumped off!

  48. My personal fave is “fluff this up a little.” Meaning take this perfectly informative and understandable copy and make it “warm and fuzzy.” Another good one is “take these two bullet points and create copy for a trifold brochure.”

  49. Very cathartic, thank you! And while I realize I’m late coming to this discussion… the timing couldn’t have been better for me personally! Looking forward to more.


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