Business leaders are communicators. Your words shape perceptions and influence opinions. Employees, customers, and shareholders look to you for information, as well as interpretation of what the facts mean for them. Your stakeholders seek clarity, completeness, and truth. Is that what you are providing?
Consider these 12 points:
- Proximity: Are you viewing the scene from a helicopter or the ground? What vantage point will give listeners the details and perspective they need?
- Vantage point blindness: Imagine riding an elephant. You may have an excellent view of the horizon, but you cannot see the elephant’s feet or what you are trampling.
- Situational bias: Suppose your hourly workforce is grumbling about low wages. This situational dissatisfaction can breed a group cynicism that colors how they hear your messages.
- Spin: When you portray facts with the intent to create a specific impression or inspire a specific action, you walk a fine line between reporting news and manipulating your audience.
- Curation: When you purposely omit or edit facts to make a message more palatable, you erode trust. Listeners detect when they are not getting the full story. You also risk depriving people of the information they need to make sound business decisions.
- Reporter filters: If you personally are excited about an initiative, you may come across as a cheerleader. If you have doubts about a project, listeners may sense your lack of enthusiasm, even if you are trying to keep your opinions to yourself.
- Knowledge gaps: You can only report the information you have; if you don’t research fully, or if your sources withhold information, your output may be incomplete or inaccurate.
- Permission: Has someone asked you to withhold details that would be vital to a listener’s understanding and decision-making? What is your responsibility to press for permission to share the full story?
- Drawing conclusions: Check the facts, and your assumptions about those facts, before reporting news. Carefully consider all possible interpretations of the events before deciding what to communicate.
- Framing: Provide context to help the listener understand the significance of your message; context could include company history, competitive threats, etc.
- Squeaky wheel: Just because it’s loud or outrageous doesn’t mean it’s the most important or newsworthy.
- Placement: If something is on the front page of a newspaper with a bold headline, readers assume it’s more important than something buried on page 10 in small font.
A recent visit to the Newseum in Washington, D.C. inspired this post, particularly a Holocaust video that leaves viewers with the question, “If the media had treated this news differently, could we have saved lives?” This video and an article at History News Network paint a clear picture of a placement problem (#12 above):
“The New York Times alone printed nearly 1,200 articles about what we have now come to call the Holocaust, about one every other day.
“The articles in the Times and elsewhere described the propagation of anti-Semitic laws in German allied countries; death from disease and starvation of hundreds of thousands in ghettos and labor camps; mass executions in Nazi-occupied Russia; and mass gassings in Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Majdanek. The articles also indicated that these were not isolated incidents, but part of a systematic campaign to kill all the Jews in Europe.
“And yet, at the end of the war and for decades afterward, Americans claimed they did not know about the Holocaust as it was happening. How was it possible for so much information to be available in the mass media and yet simultaneously for the public to be ignorant?
“The reason is that the American media…never treated the Holocaust as an important news story.”
I encourage you to read this challenging article in full and think about the implications for communicators.
People are looking to you, as a leader, for communication that will build understanding and lead to good decisions. Are you upholding the trust your stakeholders have placed in you?