Friday, December 7, 2018


One of the primary goals of any public relations effort or plan is to trigger action on the part of a particular audience. We see this all the time. A candidates blasts the airwaves with a range of ads designed to get folks to vote for him or her. A department store urges potential consumers to take advantage of an upcoming weekend sale. A neighbor asks another neighbor for a ride to work because their own car is under repair. The list of examples is endless. Further, while they may not represent traditional public relations campaigns, each does illustrate an attempt by one to generate action on the part of another.

In doing this, what "button" is the initiator of a campaign trying to push? What inner trigger is the candidate, department store or even neighbor seeking to appeal to via their outreach? Plausible and even logical answers might range from empathy and intellect to kindness or even a sense of duty. All those are definitely factors when one appeals to another. But the bottom line "button" by far is compassion. Compassion goes beyond understanding or feelings of empathy. Those, while important,  denote a level of detachment. For instance, just because one understands how awful it might to be trapped inside a burning building or grasp the fear that that person be experiencing, does not suggest they are going to actually do anything about the person's predicament.

Compassion, on the other hand, does equate with action. This intense feeling or emotion is what drives one to do something about electing a person to office, taking advantage of a sale, or giving one a ride to work. Professional communicators should recognize that while instilling support within others for a cause is a positive thing, it is not nearly as powerful as motivating another to step forward and deminstrate that support. All of us carrying inside the ability to be compassionate. The constant challenge of the communicator is to make contact with it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Justice and Communicaion

Rolling around in my head recently is the concept of justice. How, for instance, does it relate to communication? Is there justice to be found in how one communicates with another? Does it relate in any way to the manner or effectiveness of a communication effort?  If one were to lie to another, then end up not getting the result they wanted, would that be justice? Perhaps. Drawing from the definition of this concept found in the dictionary, justice refers to how fairly one is judged as it relates to a negative act on their part. If one robs a bank, then the degree to which they are punished would speak to the level of justice applied to them. More to the point, if a public figure lies to their constituents, then it seems the reaction of those people would determine the level of justice imposed upon the liar.

In his musing, the notable philosopher Plato viewed justice as one yardstick for measuring the quality of one's soul. He saw justice as a virtue that speaks to the level of goodness in a person's behavior. Given that, how much justice is found in the soul and/or actions of one who lies or purposely deceives? As best I can interpret Plato, it would seem the mere act of communicating falsehoods would be enough to label a person as being unjust. A more conventional interpretation of "justice," however, seems to point to the consequences of one's behavior rather than simply the actual behavior itself.  

For myself, I tend to give the concept of justice a broad interpretation. One can behavior unjustly and not suffer any consequences. In addition, one can both behave in a purposefully harmful way as well as be punished for it and be the recipient of justice. In other words, justice applies to both behavior and consequences of behavior. For communicators to be viewed in the most positive light possible, then they must be sensitive to the concept of justice in all that they say and do. Professional communicators can operate under no less important standard.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Promoting a Shared Goal

There are so many ways that people are "funny." I do no mean in the "ha-ha" sense, but rather in the odd or peculiar way. For instance, it has long been established that we humans are social creatures. We need regular interaction with others for reasons ranging from validation and security to companionship and information. Therefore, given that need, it would seem a safe assumption that working or collaborating with others is something we do well. Of course, it goes without saying that that is not the case. Mankind has a far too well documented history of interactions gone wrong. This not only applies to large populations but individual co-mingling as well.

Author Robert M. Sapolsky in his wonderful best seller "Behave: the Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst" (2017) notes that not even getting to know each other well guarantees people will get along more effectively. Instead, he wrote, interactions work best when there is a shared goal within a group. A shared goal creates a stronger "combined us" that serves as a kind of unifying element for members of a group. It decreases preconceptions and prejudices and provides group members with a point with which to rally around. Based on Sapolsky's research, studies have shown that the benefits of a shared goal remain in-tact despite group differences in race, sexual orientation, religion or ethnicity.

As this applies to communication, it seems critical that whatever a group's goal might be, it must be communicated properly and effectively to all members. The members need to know what the goal is, need to understand it, need to recognize how it applies to them, and ways in which it might be achieved. None of these, mind you, are small things. Effective and well-planned communication can address these matters. Further, it can not only bring together folks but also keep them in the same room and operating from the same play book.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

"Me and Them"

Here's an old joke: There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide people into two groups and those who do not. While I will concede that may not be the greatest knee-slapper ever, within that statement there is what I view as a profound observation, particularly as it applies to communication. In most every encounter or interaction between folks, people bring their own perspective. We all have our own points of view regardless of whether the topic is "safe" such as last night's ball game or something more touchy like religion or politics. As a result, with most every exchange there is the potential for conflict.

People see things differently and therefore are apt to disagree. Consequently, as each encounter brings with it a genuine chance of conflict, it is not surprising that much of the time we view life as a kind of "me and them" dynamic. "I have my perspective," we tend to think, "and therefore must be prepared to defend it at any given moment." Therefore, such an attitude, regardless of how logical or even justified it might be, does suggest the existence of underlying tension that hovers above, under and all around most any kind of conversation. Further, it is my contention that such tension, regardless of its level of intensity, shapes our approach to others as well as the tone of exchange between "me and them."

Differences, by definition, serve as the seed of conflict. Our challenge is found not just in how well we deal with that conflict, but in how well we actually recognize or acknowledge it. Given that, I can easily understand a person's choice to talk at the person with whom they are with so as to drive home their point of view or opinion. Such a choice, by one or both parties, makes effective communicating more difficult and perhaps less satisfying. To deal with this, one important key is to acknowledge the existence of possible conflict. Doing that, I believe, adds an important layer of openness in which all parties can more easily pursue connecting with others.    


Friday, November 23, 2018

Unhelpful Hints

Communicating effectively is tough enough without outsiders constantly stepping in and telling you how you should be doing it better. It reminds of life as a new parents. Establishing your own rhythm with your new born is both challenging and wonderful. Leave it to others to muck up such an exhilarating time with one piece of unsolicited advice after another. I say "thanks but no thanks." Just because folks are parents themselves does not necessarily make them expert enough to begin telling new-parents how to do their job. One great thing about being a new parent is discovering new dimensions of life with your child. But I digress.

I concede that one purpose of this blog is to offer unsolicited guidance as to how to communicate more effectively. While I agree my so-called advice may be unsolicited, another goal of mine here is to instill in others a deeper appreciation of communicating well. Attempting to do this, however, I must acknowledge that not everything I say may be helpful. For instance, do people really need to be reminded how important it is to listen to others? Do people really need to be told two primary purposes of public relations are to persuade and to establish relationships? Perhaps not. Perhaps people already know all that.

Still, there is the reality that all of us need to be reminded of ways to communicate more effectively, particularly when so much miscommunication seems to swirl around us. This brings me back to "Unhelpful Hints." Here are a couple worth ignoring: people should not talk over others; people should not ignore the priorities or interests of others; people should not concern themselves with ways to sustain strong ties with others.  This kind of list, you might notice, is easily just as long as one of what people should do. To better reconcile this, perhaps we should all at least agree that communicating well is in the best interest of us all and that tolerating unhelpful or unwanted advice is  one of those things we will simply have to do.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Promoting That "One Thing"

In the business world, there is a phrase called "core competence" that some scholars refer to when discussing a particular company. For instance, what is the core competence of, say, Apple, Monsanto or General Motors? What is that one-thing or aspect of each entity that separates it from its competitors? Is there one thing that it does better consistently than any one else?  I confess to not being all that knowledgeable in a specific way about those or the great majority of other businesses or corporations that currently dominate the international landscape. However, I can say with authority that all successful or profitable companies have that "one thing." Otherwise, they would not be enjoying any kind of sustained or meaningful financial success.

My goal with this entry is to not delve into the specifics of any company's specialty. Rather, it is view that "one thing" from a communication perspective. More to the point, how does a company communicate that specialty both to the public and to its internal membership? I find this to be an interesting challenge. On the one hand, it would seem any entity wants to be viewed as being highly proficient in all areas of its existence. On the other, suppose it does, in fact, do one thing above all others extremely well. Should it not be as open about that as possible? Should it not go out of its way to promote that one area?

Promoting one particular aspect of an entire entity is a tricky dance step. Coca Cola is extremely successful and has been for many years. In large part, this is because the company does a superb job of promoting the taste of its product. But what about such aspects as the distribution of this product? How it is manufactured? How well its employees are treated? All this is to say, is there a danger or downside to, say, a company's internal morale if it appears to be promoting the work or efforts of one set of its workers over another? A company's communication experts needs to be sensitive to this possible problem.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Element of Luck

I begin with an interesting question. A young 28-year-old man named Tsutomu Yamaguchi was living in Hiroshima, Japan, at the time the United States dropped an atomic bomb on that city in 1945 to expedite the end of the second world war. He survived. Wisely, he decided to flee the city to go somewhere safe. Where did he go? Nagasaki. A few days later the U.S. dropped its second atomic bomb on - you guessed it - Nagasaki.  Yamaguchi somehow survived that, too. He ended up living another 65 years until his passing in 2010. So, was young Yamaguchi lucky? Or would we consider him to be a very unlucky chap?

Personally, I think you could argue this one either way. Whatever the answer, I suspect he is the only individual in history who can make the claim of having survived two nuclear explosions. One cannot help but be impressed. Perhaps not to the extent of Yamaguchi, but his story got me to wondering how much luck is there involved in successful or effective communication. By "luck" I means aspects of an act by which we have no control. In this case, we are talking about an act representing an attempt to generate mutual understanding and respectful exchange. For example, how "lucky" is, say, a retail store that advertises a sale that results in people actually going to their store to make some cost-savings purchases?

Obviously, the store has no control over anyone's actions. Perhaps a family saw the ad but was committed to going out of town to attend a wedding. Consequently, they had to pass on the sale. Bad luck for the store. On the flip side, perhaps the family had no plans so decided to check-out the sale. Good luck for the store. The point is no matter how much we plan out our acts of communication, there is always an element of risk or the unknown at-play. Simply put, we cannot control everything. What we can do in our planning or research is play the odds, try to influence by making what we share as listener-friendly as possible.