I have been reviewing the media reporting on a range of subjects over the past week or so and there are interesting results. This isn’t a statistically valid piece of research but it comes from listening closely. What I have found is organisations and individuals seem to be very good at making statements or saying what will happen but they miss a vital element. The key to effective communication has to be making sure we focus on the ‘why’ of things.
Explaining why something will be the case, will happen, or is needed is essential to presenting a logical argument. People need to understand the reasoning. When we listen to a series of statements being made by leaders, politicians and others we should be asking why. It is time that journalists made sure that the why is clearer explained. When I was studying for a philosophy degree the issue of rational and logical argument was fundamental to every piece of work or research. But it has a very practical application.
When leaders are trying to engage with employees they often rush to say we need to do this, it is important to do something else, and we need everyone to be this way. But if they are challenged about why that is required some will flounder. It absolutely has to be a thread through all communication to say why things are needed. People can then understand the logical and the conclusion, and even if they disagree with the outcome they can see why it is the case.
As communication professionals we should always be questioning people to understand the why and be able to make it central to the activity. It often is not easy to be the loan voice to ask ‘why’ but communicators know that they need to be challenging if they are to be really effective.
I was interested to listen to the Ted talk of Angela Lee Duckworth a psychologist who looked at high achievers to find out what was common between them. She found something she calls the theory of ‘grit’. The bottom line is that she used a range of studies to predict those who would succeed and found the common thread was that the people with passion and perseverance were most likely to achieve. (Check out the talk https://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_the_key_to_success_grit?language=en)
The theory goes that you need to have persistence that lasts for years and means that you are working at something consistently. It links to other theories that you have to do something for at least 10,000 hours to become an expert at it. You have to stick at it despite the obstacles and challenges.
There is more that is needed and that is to have a passion for what you do. In an interview today Angela was asked whether that verged on an obsession. She said ‘yes’ having this passion means you are thinking about the subject when you get up in the morning and it will be the last thing on your mind at the end of the day. You have to believe that what you are doing matters and that you are making a difference to people’s lives.
I love this theory and the idea. It means that we don’t need to have the best IQ or come from a privileged background; if we have passion and persistence we can be successful. This is worth considering for ourselves but also for future generations. It makes it even more important to find out what your passion is, and to ensure that you are working in that field. If you aren’t succeeding despite having passion and perseverance then perhaps it is not the right subject for you.
Being able to continue despite the challenges that life throws at you is important. It means having resilience and the ability to pick yourself up when you are being knocked down. You have an aim in sight and will battle to reach it. It has made me think about whether I have ‘grit’ or do I need to obtain it.
It was a busy weekend of sport including the FA Cup Final and the England International match. As I was sat watching the commentary with my mum adding an extra narrative, I suddenly realised it was an ‘all male’ event. When I looked at the half time discussion those speaking were all men. Then when I caught a new advert on Sky Sports I was confronted by the same thing. It was a series of men promoting a range of sports from football through to golf.
Around 20 years ago I worked on a local newspaper where there were just a handful of people who did every reporting job going. I had the great fun of doing sports reporting, or to be more precise working as a football reporter. It was quite a lonely place at times with only two women reporters in a room full of men, and some days just me on my own. This was the early 1990s but even so it was an unnerving place. I had to develop a range of coping and survival mechanisms.
With recent events I look at the reporters and commentators currently working and feel we have only made a few short steps. How can it be acceptable for sport to be such a male dominated environment? The recent golf decision not to allow women into the club has no place in modern life. This shows how far we still have to go to gain some equality.
It has to start with young children in school, who need to be regularly provided with role models and an opportunity to find a way to shine. There are many options available and these can and should be tailored to gain the maximum impact and encourage people to consider their future.
The media, and particularly sports journalists, appear to be one of the few remaining bastions of individual activity that has led people to get busy apologising but remains unchanged. We have to find a different way forward but it needs effort and focus.
There is something that is shocking when there are none or very few women seen within live communication broadcasts. Sports is not just something for the boys it has so much to offer everyone. I think we all need to take a look around us to identify areas that can be subject to challenge.
It is often easy to stay within the comfort zone and do the same things we have done before. Nobody really likes change and to remain with what we feel we know is sometimes seen as the best position. It can be why we keep to the routine. But that can’t be healthy for us particularly for our mental well-being.
This morning I was quite prepared to stick to the routine of schooling my horse and staying within the safe zone. It would have been easy to do if it hadn’t been for friends around me. They gently nudged me to make sure I did something else. The result was we went for a hack (a stroll around the nearby housing estate) which was much more relaxing for both me and my horse. Why didn’t I want to go, because horses can be unpredictable and spook.
It made me think of a saying that many close friends have often used. ‘If you always do what you always did, then you always get what you always got.’ Or something like that. I like to think of it when I am finding myself staying within the safe parameters. Importantly, it is also a way of pushing you to try something new. None of us should sit and continually moan about a set of circumstances without doing something to change the situation.
As it is Sunday night and most of us are preparing for, and thinking about, the working week ahead, I know many will have a sense of dread. If you are having that gloom about stepping back into the workplace then why don’t you do something about it? Life is too short to be stuck in a rut that makes you sad or depressed. I think the only thing that stops us is the fear of the unknown and the reluctance to embrace change.
So the next time you catch yourself moaning about a situation why not turn it around and think what you can do to change things
In the past week or so I have noticed a lot of comments on social media from communicators highlighting where organisations have missed opportunities or fallen short. We all need to keep reviewing what we do on a regular basis and cast a critical eye over whether we have achieved what we set out to do. It requires honesty and the ability to be able to detach from what we have put our efforts into.
Evaluation is one of the most problematic areas of communication and public relations, but it has to be one of the most important. Few of us spend enough time really assessing the impact of the activity. Instead we often run from one piece of work straight into another piece of work. It is a particular problem since communication teams have been reduced and are much smaller.
Communicators like to review what other people are doing and consider it against their own activity. I am like many that will keep a close eye on organisations and companies who are in the spotlight and review how they conduct their communication. I also review the online and social media work. There are times when I can see missed opportunities or I wonder why an organisation may take a particular approach to their communication.
It is important though that we all remember we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. We see the outcome of the communication activity but we don’t see the discussions that take place beforehand, the reasons why the activity is undertaken, the rationale for the decision making, and the resources that are available to undertake the work. It is easy to sit back and make value judgements from a position of holding only a fraction of the information.
There are many times when we know what we could do better or what we could change and don’t need others to point it out. Feedback is always useful but we need to consider how we give it and whether we have the full picture.