Monday, April 23, 2018


There is a story in the news right now about an outdoorsman who was recently bitten by a shark. It turns out a few years ago he was attacked by a bear. And a year or so before that he was bitten by a rattlesnake. If there is anything that epitomizes the term "trifecta" it is that. (I have a feeling that somewhere there is a gerbil patiently biding its time for the day when this guy crosses its path.) The fact this adventuress soul has survived all three of these encounters of the worst kind is good news, of course. But given what has happened to him - let's be honest - it is also funny. How could it not be? By the way, a word of advice: if this guy ever asks you out to lunch, then before answering you may first want to confirm what is on the menu.

Jokes aside, one would be forgiven for concluding that this man may be feeling down on himself for putting himself in vulnerable positons on a continuing basis. He may also be feeling frustrated for not being able to enjoy nature without also being victim of some unexpected and awful attack. It is also possible that he is feeling as if he cannot do anything right. While none of these experiences has happened to me, I can certainly empathize with his reaction to it all. Yes, being on the receiving end of attacks by three deadly creatures is terrible but "nature" is not the only aspect of the world where similar feelings are felt.

In the world of communication frustration can often feel as if it is a way of life. An example would be a person whose words are misinterpreted by others, is not listened to when she or he tries to restate what they initially said, and then attempts to write their message down only to be told their writing is messy and therefore unreadable. This is a trifecta of another kind. As communicators we need to take extra care is how we interact with others because do not always go well and the unexpected can occur in ways that can have awful consequences.  

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Multiple Visits

One of the great and most beloved novels of all-time is Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." Let's be honest, if it weren't so loved, then why would Hollywood have bothered to make so many movie and television specials on it over the years? (This does not include all the theatrical productions that continue to be put together each year.) The main part of the story is when Ebenezer Scrooge, the main character, is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future the night of Christmas Eve. As is widely known, he awakes from his traumatic night a new and more kind-hearted man with a much more loving outlook on life.

I see some parallels between Scrooge's evolution and that of the public relations profession. Over the past nearly 150 years, it, too, has had close encounters with multiple versions of itself. The first visit came from what I might call the Ghost of  Anything Goes. In this colorful version, communicating with mass audiences was carried out in a free-spirited manner.  Make your message as exciting and colorful as possible with little regard for straight-forward facts. The second visit came from the Ghost of Analysis. It is here where an array of scholars and high-level thinkers took a hard look at the act of communication and produced a series of theories and models explaining the workings of this act.

Finally, the third visit, which happens to be going on right now, is from what I perceive to be the Ghost of Accountability. In our current times of societal division, there appears to be much disagreement over what used to be indisputable: facts and truth. Given that context, people, particularly public figures, seem to be giving greater weight to their opinions and perspectives rather than hard facts. At the same time, there appears to be a trend suggesting those same people may be coming to realize the truth is not be tossed aside or even ignored. Those, such as elected officials and talking-heads within the media, seem to be losing their audiences. They are beginning to be held accountable for playing loose with the facts.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Job Evaluations Again

I will be the first to admit that I am biased when it comes to job evaluations. I do not like them. Whether it is being on the receiving end or giving them, I find the dynamic to be uncomfortable. In fact, it is nearly as uncomfortable as asking for a pay raise. Even if it is justified, the idea of  asking for more money because you have had a great year, you discovered a cure for hiccups, or simply because you are a hard worker, feels a bit degrading. The same is true when one is being evaluated by their boss. Trying to maintain a level of detached coolness while another, point by point, identifies things you could have done better or should have done at all is not easy.  

My sense is when job evaluations are mentioned, people tend to think of the person who is being evaluated. But what about the person who does the interviewing? Their job, after all, is not only to assess the performance of the worker but do so in a way that demoralize them. This requires a great deal of thought and planning. The evaluator, of course, wants to be fair and thorough, but also encouraging and caring. People are vulnerable creatures whether we admit it or not. Being the subject of any level of criticism, regardless of how well intentioned, puts most any one on edge or in a defensive posture.

The evaluator faces a communication challenge. Their goal is to be truly heard and understood. Ideally, what they say should motivate the employee to try and do better, to improve their level of effort even if they believe they cannot work any harder than they have. I view performance evaluations like a special cake. If at all possible, its ingredients must include praise, sensitivity, constructive suggestions, and great clarity. Not everyone can walk this tightrope. One or two false steps can be devastating to the person who is being evaluated. But if successful, the evaluation can serve as a major springboard for greater performance.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Whaddaya Think?

It is a common enough thing to say to another. "Whaddaya think?" It may even be a close second to, "How's it going'?" Musical giant Bruce Springsteen refers to it as a familiar greeting from one of his close friends, producer Jon Landau. I myself have used it to myself as well as with others. I like knowing "The Boss" does that, too. As popular as that phrase or question is, however, the real matter revolves around what answer a person has for it. Should one try to answer it, there then becomes the matter of properly framing the response. After all, the question is both broad and specific - or at least seems that way.

For my part, what I think is communication is hard. Since we all communicate, people tend to take it for granted or treat it lightly. Unfortunately, someone who does communicate well is not that common. Why? The answer is found in recognizing that communication requires research, planning, pre-testing, setting a timeline, and figuring out ways to measure it success. Who wants to go to all that trouble? In many cases, people do not. Why should they? After all, they can communicate without having to do any analytical thinking or processing. Leave that to the communication nerds who seem to want to turn a simple act into something more complex.

This, to me, encapsulates the dual and conflicting elements that define communication: it's simplicity and complexity. The two elements coexist at the same time. This is definitely not the case in many or any other social sciences. One result of this ongoing duality is success and even failure at different levels. For instance, I can announce to my wife that I am angry. But how can or should I do that in a way that triggers a positive response from her? How can I do it in a way that does not cause her to feel defensive? Answering these questions points out the complexity of communication and how one must attempt to address those various layers simultaneously if they are to be effective. This is what I think.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

How Goes Wakanda

As of this writing it is well on its way to become the highest grossing motion picture of all-time, I am assuming everyone this side of Jupiter has seen "The Black Panther." If you have not, then do not raise your hand. It is best you do not reveal yourself. If you would, simply and quietly sneak out of the room and go see it. Not only will you not be sorry, you will no longer be carrying around the guilt of being the only person you know who has not yet gotten in on a good thing. As for the rest of us, let us take a few moments to discuss the ramifications of one of the final scenes of this fun movie. It is one of two scenes shown during the closing or end credits.

Speaking to a delegation of world leaders, the new chief of Wakanda pledges to share his country's many and up-till-then unknown technologies and knowledge with the international community. Such a pledge, of course, is good news, but given the skepticism with which his announcement is received, suggests the sharing to-come represents a challenge. Specifically, for the good-hearted Wakandians, in terms of communication, their work is definitely cut out for them on several levels. Perhaps their biggest obstacle is overcoming all the eye-rolling and snickers with which their announcement is received.

To begin, to effectively communicate their knowledge to the world will require a great deal of patience  Such an undertaking is going to take a great deal of strategizing, too. For instance, the many cultures of the world will need to receive what surely is complex information in ways they can understand. This will require making use of an array of communication channels that in all likelihood will vary from nation to nation. Secondly, there is the matter of audience. To whom will the leaders of Wakanda share their information? The general public? Scientists? Military leaders? All this is to say that while "The Black Panther" ends on an upbeat note, it points to the reality that positive information is not necessarily all that easy to share.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Information Wars

These days one would hard-pressed to identify anything being fought over more than information. (Perhaps water might take that honor though it depends upon what part of the world we are discussing.) Still, information seems to be the top prize for all kinds of elements of society. One of the big-name information warriors on the field right now is Sinclair Broadcasting, a firm that owns more local television stations in the United States than any other company. Sinclair has a very conservative bent and wants to ensure its many affiliates are passing along information that perpetuates that particular bias.

A big problem with that is the fact operates under the guise of sharing all information with its viewers  without any deliberate filter. Recent news reports have shown this not to be true. Yes, Sinclair is in the information business but not to the extent of being thoroughly generous with it. Its philosophy, much like Fox News, to cite another example, is to pass along its perspective of the world to others. Information wrapped in objectivity is not what either one of these highly-influential entites is about. This sad reality coupled with the Trump administration's ongoing attacks on the media put unfiltered information at-risk.

There is another band of information warriors on the field that can join in the information fight but in a way that supports unbiased information sharing. These are those men and women working in public relations. Though they often represent clients who want these communication professionals to perpetuate a certain point-of-view, PR workers are supposed to be committed to the truth. They are dedicated to being honest and not attempting to mislead or deceive others. By following their code of ethics, these professional communicators can help ensure information is shared with the public as it is meant to be shared: without filter.

Monday, April 2, 2018

At or With?

In 1970 in an article in The New York Times, Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman put forth the following dictum: "the social responsibility of business is to increase profits so long as the company stays within the rules of law." Known as the Friedman Doctrine, this statement seems straight-forward enough, almost beyond dispute. After all, of course businesses are in the business of making money. The more the better. Right? And of course they should not break or violate any laws in their efforts to increase profits. This is no different than it is for individuals. We strive to make money and not do anything illegal in that regard.

Does such a philosophy apply to communication? Does it make sense to believe men and women have a social responsibility to communicate, assuming they want to, so long as they do not break any laws is doing so? That, too, seems beyond dispute. But looking at what Friedman wrote nearly 50 years ago and what I have attempted to relate now, there is a nagging feeling that there appears to be something missing. In raising his initial thought, Friedman seems to overlook the matter of ethics. If a business branches out to another country, for instance, is it acceptable for it to ignore any child labor laws that run counter to what it follows in its own country?  Yes," is what Friedman seems to be suggesting.

But what about my communication analogy? What social responsibility do any of us have when it comes to communication? Does our responsibility end with a matter of our doing what we need to do to be heard? Do we have any social responsibility to give others a chance to respond to what we say? Should we factor into our communicating the opportunity for others to whom we have spoken to be heard as well? The answer to that points to how we see one-way communication versus two-way communication. Speaking at versus speaking with. Which one is preferable? Which one, ultimately, is more effective?