The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said. – Peter Drucker
Did you know that Benjamin Franklin, founding father of the USA, was once a poor writer?
Now recognized as an important politician, inventor, scientist and writer, Franklin was not always this way. In fact, he considered himself a poor writer but took an active interest in improving his writing capabilities. The poems and articles authored by Franklin are the fruits of his labor; he worked on his storytelling skills by deconstructing and reconstructing what he considered “great writing.”
He did this by taking a magazine of the time – The Spectator (equivalent to the modern day The New Yorker), finding an article he liked and as he read the article he would highlight arguments and write down key points and data. When he was finished, he would write the article himself using the notes he had taken. Later, he would compare his article to the original and see where his writing was weak, where it was better and what writing conventions he needed to work on.
After much practice, he soon got “better” than the best articles and went on to write poetry, prose, rhetoric etc.
The moral? The Ben Franklin method works – if you want to get better, consider looking at the best and deconstructing then reconstructing the work of art, project, plan,…whatever it may be. The term “neurotic spreadsheeting” has been used to describe this method but the story of Ben Franklin is always sure to inspire us to take action in actively improving our storytelling or other skills.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, …” –Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.
I often use this Dickens’ quote when describing situations in business (and life!). It is also applicable to Communications: the area of every organization that is responsible for communicating with an organization’s “publics”.
While Communications is a fun and exciting area to work in, there are many times when the real importance of Communications becomes apparent only when dealing with crisis management or, as the title to this post suggests, “the worst of times.”
Issue and crisis management supports organizational leadership when things don’t go as planned. Communications has a key role to play because these professionals can often see the forest from the trees; unlike management or individuals directly involved in the issue, Communications professionals are not players in the issue at hand but rather generalists who can tie in ideas and areas of the organization promoting a crisis turn-around or positive outcome.
One such example is Communications’ obsession with getting terminology correct. Take, for example, the often confused difference between issue and crisis management:
Issues Management involves identifying any potential issues as a result of policy, communications, actions etc. and creating a strategy that serves to address issues in a positive way.
Crisis Management relates to managing the damage an issue might have on company reputation or bottom line. It involves recognizing warning signs such as: 1) unexpected event 2) media and stakeholders demanding info/resolution 3) online rumors 4) loss of control (when unfortunate events expand in scope).
Organizations and individuals may experience “the worst of times” but it is up to both leadership and individuals seasoned in the art of Communications to leverage these as opportunities to show increased clarity, values, ethics or empathy with the public. While planning ahead for a crisis (who, what, where, when, how) is part of the role of a Communications or PR professional, the moments of truth may very well be in “the worst of times” and the goal should always be to bring around the issue or crisis to embrace, once again, “the best of times.”
The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.
In climbing, a “problem” is a large, technically difficult rock. Climbing it is referred to as “solving” by alpinists.
There is something gorgeously poetic and awesomely revealing in this little piece of bouldering trivia. It goes to show what Cicero said years ago about the importance of naming things correctly. Metaphorically speaking or not, attributing names to things helps us understand our place in the world.
Previa a la visita del Papa Francisco a Ecuador hubo una explosión de comunicación de palabras, frases e ideas atribuidas al pontífice. Muchas de ellas eran hermosas expresiones de la necesidad de unión, de vivir con alegría, de evangelizar y vivir su fe, de tener vidas coherentes y valientes.
Una buena cita encapsula una idea o un pensamiento y de una forma particularmente esclarecedor. Da a lector o al público, la libertad de imaginar la masa real debajo de la superficie de las palabras como un iceberg. Invita al lector de pensar, contemplar y aplicar esta idea en su vida profesional o personal.
Es justamente esta invitación a la contemplación de palabras que a veces nos hace falta cuando se trata de frases o palabras fuera de contexto. Las palabras hermosas se quedan como palabras hermosas o nos conducen hace pensamientos o ideas equivocadas si no se los entienden dentro de su contexto.El arte de la comunicación es alinear las palabras con contexto para inducir acciones concretas hacia una meta.
Características de nuestro mundo social y físico inmediato – las calles donde caminamos, las personas que encontramos, las palabras que escuchamos – juegan un papel muy importante en la conformación de lo que somos y cómo actuamos.
El contexto sí importa. Con la visita del Papa Francisco y los mensajes que compartió con América Latina y el mundo, no hay que olvidar el contexto de su comunicación. El lenguaje y las palabras no solo describen el mundo pero tiene la capacidad de crear mundos; las palabras conllevan mucho poder.
Last year I read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. It’s a non-fiction book that was on most of the bestseller lists in the United States and Canada in 2012 and early 2013. Cain does a great job at explaining how introverts can contribute to a more creative, empathetic, reflective and – in one word – balanced society.
The thing about “quiet” people is that they are not actually quiet. As Carl Jung (Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist who founded analytical psychology and the introvert/extrovert theory) says, introversion and extroversion are extremes opposites and most people fall somewhere between the two: “There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.”
And that’s why I think we can learn from the “quiet” person just as much as we can learn from the “noisy” one. The challenge is that we are overwhelmed by noise that the valuable qualities of “quiet” people are sometimes overlooked. Hence the imbalance in society and one of Cain’s central tenants in her book and “quiet” revolution.
So what have I learnt from the “quiet” person in the room?
#1. Listening combats isolation
As counterintuitive as it may sound, the best listeners – and usually the quietest person in the room – are less likely to feel the same isolation as vocally assertive extroverts. They are focused on listening rather than talking. They don’t seal themselves off from other people waiting for their next moment to talk. They listen and empathize and, in time, their listening abilities bring them to the real meaning of the conversation and the concern, fears, hopes and wishes of those they listen to.
#2. Empathy and diversity of thought leads to better decision making
Groupthink, “yes” men/women, status quo – all are results of lack of diversity in decision making. By involving more points of view, we are better able to represent the interests of our stakeholders. Quiet people, because of their empathetic nature, tend to see more points of view and can challenge groupthink if they are given the right opportunity. (For more info on how to do this visit Cain’s blog – there are some excellent articles on how to involve introverts in decision making and creative processes).
#3. It’s not always about charisma
In workplaces today, there is an emphasis on collaboration which can sometimes lead to groupthink as mentioned above. The solution is diversity of thought and to appreciate ideas not from where they come from (i.e. rank, title, popularity) but on their own merit. Charisma is not always the trait of the best leader – see Simon Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last – but it does seem to characterize today’s leader.
Cain states that while charismatic leaders may earn bigger paychecks, they do not have better corporate performance. Quiet people have equally creative and valuable ideas that may not be heard. The best ideas are not always the loudest ones.
In closing, there is untapped potential in the “quiet” person that we can only begin to benefit from if we start to balance introversion and extroversion in our organizations. Extroversion has been the ideal for too long.
Last year I wrote a piece in Forbes on how to communicate like Hemingway. Here is my English summary of that article.
Ernest Hemingway (USA 1899 – 1961) wrote in simple sentences that carried great impact and significance. His paragraphs were succinct; writing precisely what was required without additional adjectives or flowery language. I think we can learn a great deal from Hemingway. We can learn to be better communicators in our profesional and personal lives.
Being a better writer, to me, means thinking about who is reading or will read our words. Who is your audience? Good writing means presenting something relevant – and perhaps even challenging – to your public: readers, users, clients, investors, followers, family, friends or community.
If we want to write like Hemingway, we need to choose our words. Here are a few things that I have picked up in Hemingway’s writing and how it can apply to us:
1) Hemingway tends to speak in the positive. Avoid double negatives or what we don’t do. Instead, talk about goals, about resources and talent, be frank with our public about how we can add value, how we can work together. Ask for the sale. Be transparent.
2) Hemingway wrote standing up. Supposedly, this was because he had a leg injury from WW1. But Hemingway once said “I like to write standing up because it brings vitality”. Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, and Donald Rumsfeld are other famous people who wrote standing up. The takeaway? Embrace idiosyncrasies in our writing or our style of writing because it makes us authentic.
3) Hemingway was “gritty”. He would often erase and rewrite sentences several times. He had a vision and was determined to see it through. I find it’s that same grit that makes entrepreneurs and leaders stand out. In Latin America, it’s often grit that gets us through the difficult moments or unexpected external factors that make our business or lives challenging.
Hemingway had an amazing talent for writing. If we put into practice some of what defines his writing – precise words, positive phrases, succinct well worked paragraphs that speak to our public and demonstrate our personality – we might be able to improve how our projects are perceived and received in Latin America and the world at large.
PPPs or P3’s– Public Private Partnerships – are becoming increasingly popular forms of private and public sector cooperation in infrastructure development and shared service offerings. We hear about successful partnerships in areas like ports, road concessions, real estate development and energy generation projects. This is especially true in countries that typically look for investment and expertise in order to free up capital for other programs or when the project involves a strategic resource, capital intense investment and long term cash flows. But little is said about the human element of the PPP and why an overarching sense of purpose – or a shared belief in what the project represents to its users– is characteristic of successful PPPs.
India has privatized several airports in the last 10 years and in August announced a fast track to privatize several more. This is in line with a global trend towards airport privatization in countries such as Australia, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Germany, Mexico, New Zealand and Peru. In February 2013, the Municipality of Quito inaugurated the new Quito International Airport in Ecuador; a PPP that includes direct participation by the Municipality of Quito, the Government of Canada, and the private sector.
With increased privatization and competition, successful airports – and airport PPPs specifically- have increased their focus on the airport experience and not only on development of commercial airport activities or the provision of a function or service. As we see with Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA), branding is becoming a way for airports to distinguish themselves given increased competition in the airport sector.
CSIA is India’s second busiest airport and since 2006, the Mumbai International Airport Pvt. Ltd. (MIAL), a joint venture between the GVK led consortium and Airports Authority of India, has led the modernization and upgrade of Mumbai’s international airport. The CSIA’s logo is in the shape of a peacock feather (a symbol of pride) and their branding efforts position the airport as a gateway to experiencing India’s dynamic financial and movie-producing capital.
Regardless of whether airports choose to promote characteristics like infrastructure (e.g. Atlanta) or personality (e.g. Perth), branding begins when partners understand the project’s connection to users. And because a brand is the result of consistency of actions across all product and service offerings and, in the case of a PPP, across actions of numerous project partners, it follows that PPP partners need to share a belief in a higher purpose in order to be consistent with what image they are projecting and how they are positioned in the hearts and minds of users. An overarching sense of purpose brings partners to the drawing board and keeps them connected throughout the project lifetime.
Belief in a higher purpose also ensures that project promoters from the private sector are connected to users and not just particular shareholder interests. This holds true with governments that have PPP expertise; Canada, India, Australia and the UK all conduct comprehensive government PPP programs and are more likely to reap the benefits of engagement with their private sector partners and the users of the PPPs. Partners share a sense of purpose and a belief in how the project will contribute to society as well as to specific communities and stakeholders.
In general, when there is an overarching purpose to a PPP there is more space for problem solving; it opens up possibilities for collaboration because project members are focused on the things they believe in rather than the things that they are responsible for. Decisions are made with the larger project purpose at heart; resulting in unexpected connections between departments, functions and organizations operating in industry sectors and markets with a connection to the PPP core business.
Belief is what makes talent and opportunity unite to create something of value for humanity; something that PPPs typically try to do given at least one partner’s public sector mandate. When partners grasp the partnership aspect of a PPP and sketch out and communicate the project’s vision, they not only lead a successful project but also create a successful brand.
Modern organizations understand the emotional connection to doing business and the “why” behind purchase decisions and client loyalty. Nevertheless, PPPs – and proponents of PPP – have yet to take full advantage of the emotional and human connections with their projects. Perhaps it is because of the number of partners involved in a typical PPP that branding does not take place but the dynamic nature of a PPP is precisely the reason why shared belief in a higher purpose and a unified brand is so vital to success. If a PPP has the potential to be managed as a brand, then every tangible and intangible experience associated with the project is part of the brand and can therefore contribute to the project’s equity. And who is not interested in project equity when we talk about investment and partnership?