Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Latest on Civility

The definition of  "civility" is straight-forward enough. One source describes it as "formal politeness and courtesy in behavior and speech." To exhibit civility is to demonstrate such qualities as tact, affability, respect. Certainly when it comes to connecting and interacting with others, these represent positive ingredients. For years now in this blog, I have discussed how effective communication revolves around mutual respect between multiple parties. In discussing public relations, Edward Bernays referred to it as the "harmonious adjustment" between various publics. Civility, in short, is a good thing. 

On the surface, I cannot imagine any one disagreeing with that sentiment. Who does believe the world would be a better place if everyone was more respectful of each other? Yet, currently we live in a time when people seem to behave toward each other in increasingly less respectful and uncivil ways. For instance, just recently at the 2018 Tony Awards ceremony, actor Robert De Niro stepped up to the microphone and said, "F--k Trump." Even more recently, an unknown federal government employee yelled the same thing at The President who was nearby. De Niro's words were met with thunderous applause. The behavior of the unknown government employee also received high-praise from many on social media.

In a fundamental way incivility may feel good. De Niro may have drawn a good deal of self-satisfaction in doing what he did, for instance. But from a practical perspective, how much did that act of communication advance the public dialog that continues to revolve around President Trump? Did it result in people of opposing views coming together to share their feelings and views? Did it in any way lessen the great divisions within much of the population? My sense is it probably increased the divide. Not being civil makes effective communication all the more difficult to achieve.

Monday, June 18, 2018


From the perspective of a listener, hearing a well-performed duet is an enjoyable experience. Whether it is two singers, instrumentalists or a combination of the two, being on the receiving end of the sound produced by two artists or performers who have joined forces on a particular song is a joy. Of course, though we often think of it as such, a duet does not necessarily have to relate to music. The same "magic" can be produced by two actors or speakers. The point is: two people combining their skills in pursuit of communicating a particular message or theme has the potential to be quite powerful.

For such an act to be effective, the two collaborators must meet several key challenges: carry out their part of the piece to the best of their ability but do so in a way that blends in with or complements the effort of their partner. Such a partnership should not be approached by each member with the mindset that all they need do is properly carry out their part without any kind of overriding concern for their fellow collaborator. While it is true that partner may miss their mark and end up not coming across so well, the reality is if they fall short, then so, too, does their partner. The two, to use the old phase, are "in it together."

All of us participate in duets almost every day of our lives. We interact with others such as co-workers, family members, strangers, etc. Further, we do so via all forms of communicating, including writing and speaking. Our non-stop challenge is to do our part well, but also as best we can make sure our partner succeeds. This is the essence of two-way communication. It requires an attitude of generosity and ability to recognize and embrace a fundamental responsibility for another. I can appreciate how unappealing that may sound. More than that, however, I can embrace how powerful collaborators in a communication exchange can be.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Communicating Bad News

When one is a supervisor, one of the most important aspects of the job is hiring the right people, those individuals who not only have the proper skill set but also will fit in best with the others in the office. Determining that is not always the easiest thing to do as it involves the personalities of men and women rather than their level of experience or professional achievements. That challenge aside, often one of the happiest parts of a supervisor's job is telling a person you wish to hire them. It is definitely good news. Everyone enjoys hearing good news, of course, particularly when it applies to them. In addition, people enjoy giving good news as well. Thus, the communication challenge in such instances is not all that great.

The flip side of those occasions is not so pleasant. It is those unfortunate times when a supervisor needs to tell an employee that they are being discharged. This is definitely bad news, something none of us want to hear, particularly when it applies to us. I have been witness to persons learning they were no longer wanted in ways that makes a tough situation even tougher. This is because the supervisor did a poor job of communicating it. One example: a person learned they were being removed via an e-mail that was circulated to all staff members. In the communique, new duties for staff members were outlined. That particular person was omitted. It was when they asked why that they learned they were being let-go. Ouch.

Never mind whether the person deserved to be terminated. What they did not deserve was not being told directly as well as finding out in such a public and humiliating way. If one aspires to be a manager or supervisor, then it is not enough that they have certain years of experience or reached a particular level of education. They must be effective communicators as well. This includes having the ability to sit down with a staff member in a sensitive, respectful and caring way and tell them news they do not want to hear. Lacking such sensitivity should disqualify anyone from even being considered for a supervisory position.   

Monday, June 11, 2018

Trans-Atlantic Telegraph Cable

Communication is much like other fields in that progress within happens slowly and steadily, often in increments rather than leaps and bounds. However, sometimes it does experience an exception. I speak of a giant leap forward in communication that occurred 160 years ago: the Trans-Atlantic telegraph cable. In August, 1858, this cable was laid-down following four years of unprecedented work from workers on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. The first message via the cable was sent to U.S. President James Buchanan by England's Queen Victoria. It contained nothing heavy-duty. Rather, the purpose was to simply congratulate the United States on this monumental achievement.

With the existence of this cable line, mankind was now able to communicate with great speed and even efficiency from one part of the world to the next. Much like the telephone and Internet, this telegraph cable was very much a game-changer. It was a giant step toward making the world a lot more of an intimate place than ever. The communicating or sharing of information - something that took weeks to achieve on an international scale - could now be done in minutes. Granted, though it took several more years before that trans-Atlantic telegraph cable was perfected to the point of consistent reliability, its introduction was revolutionary.    

As is the case for almost all giant steps forward, the big question revolved around the utilization of it. To put it bluntly, did mankind use it for ill-gain or turn it into a tool to do harm to others? As I see it, and I am glad to note, mankind did not mess-up this particular innovation. (How I wish we could make the same observation about social media.) Governments and media conglomerates, to cite two examples, generally sought to make the most of the telegraph cable in ways that brought benefit to mankind. It was a "plus" in all ways that are good. It also continues to serve as a reminder of how innovation, in the right hands, can be a force for good.

Friday, June 8, 2018

More Than An Echo Chamber

A couple of things flashed across my radar screen over the past few days. One is a comment that Sean Spicer, President Trump's first Press Secretary, made in a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine. In it, Spicer commented on the fact that, at times, serving as the chief spokesperson for the President of the United States was a "lonely" job. He felt totally alone answering questions about his boss with no one around to lean on or guide him. Who wouldn't feel lonely under such circumstances? One of the big mistakes he made, Spicer said, was not first checking with his boss about how he would respond to anticipated questions about issues of the day.

Without question, I do not know of many or any spokespersons who would not feel lonely if they performed their day-to-day job without first conferring with the person for whom they were speaking. As an example, Spicer pointed to his premier foray with the press: discussing the size of the audience that turned out for Trump's inauguration ceremony. Spicer says he did not first confer with The President over how he would discuss the issue, including his comments on the press coverage of this historic event. While he admitted he was accurately reflecting Trump's perspective, Spicer conceded the specific words - judged by the press to be inflammatory - he used were his own.

Coinciding with this, Spicer says he saw his job as simply echoing the words and/or feelings of his boss without making any effort to provide council as to how they might be perceived. A good press spokesperson does more than simply serve as a client's echo chamber. Ideally, they should be experienced and skilled enough to offer insight as to how best to communicate particular words and views without alienating those with whom one is trying to connect. Looking back, one can argue that the Untied States deserves better than Trump. In fairness, Trump deserved better than Spicer. Sadly, he has also deserved better than the multiple persons who have followed in Spicer's footsteps.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Writing, To Me

I have to admit over the past seven years I have had success in the book-writing part of my life. Last week my eleventh book, "A Hilltop in Jymbob," was released. (Number twelve is being released later this year.) Unfortunately, I do not have any magical explanation for my success. For that matter, nor do I have any profound advice to others hoping to have books published. I write because there is a not-so-hidden force inside me that compels me to do. Whatever success I might have in my efforts to communicate, I am never more effective than I am when I write. Those times when I am asked for an opinion, I am most comfortable when my fingers do the talking.

I very much relate to the feelings of Oliver Wendell Holmes regarding writing when he said he had "tasted the intoxicating pleasure of authorship" and, as a result, was driven to keep enjoying that sensation. This blog, in large part, is motivated by that addiction. At present, I have made over one thousand entries and have no desire to stop. Of course I want people to read it, but if no one does, then that's ok. "Why Communication Matters" is primarily for me any way. I write to be heard even if the only one listening is me. I see this act as a solitary action carried out in a public setting. Writers write to be read. I am comfortable if I am the only one who reads me.

One final point I will make here is that if one is going to be an effective communicator, then it is key that they have something to say. A point of view is vital. While babbling may serve some purpose, off hand I cannot think what it might be. Communicating without a purpose - even a small one - is little more then babbling. I do my best to never ever babble. In addition, I do my best to have something to say regardless of whether I am speaking or writing. My constant challenge remains in trying do that well. How well I might do may be questionable, but it is never without the deepest sense of gratitude that I am able to try.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Watch Out for Imperfection!

The last thing any of us need is to be reminded we are not perfect. Perhaps if there is one truism with which we all agree, it is that. In fact, how often almost daily do we all remind each other when a mistake occurs, "Hey, nobody's perfect." Got it. Despite that, however, this is not an excuse for any of us to kick-back and not try to do and be the best we can do and be. Sometimes our lack of perfection can be very costly. This is why we should not take our mistakes lightly. This is especially true in acts of communication where words and meaning matter a great deal. There can be serious ramifications.

Just last month, the federal government committed a costly communication error that nearly triggered military action in the Middle East. It revolved around the dispute over Iran and allegations that it is secretly developing nuclear capabilities for the purpose of doing harm to other nations. Here is part of a statement released by the United States: "These facts are consistent with what the United States has long known: Iran has a robust....." This set off a great deal of concern among nations, particularly Israel. Shortly afterward, the U.S. issued a key correction: "....Iran had a robust...."

Whoever distributed the statement initially had put things in the present rather than past tense. Ooops. This is a perfect example of how a small error can actually be a very big one; almost like amputating the wrong leg. Even though "nobody's perfect," this is why in matters of consequence that truism should not just be embraced but safe-guarded against. When we communicate, particularly in writing, we should assume we have had a mistake and then double and perhaps even triple check what we have composed. Our imperfection is a way of life for all of us. So, too, should be steps to be constantly on the look-out for it. This is where vigilance is a key to acts of successful and even effective communication.