“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!