Are you listening and engaging clearly? Really?

Listening baby

Listening to and engaging with audiences in clear language that is understandable even to a toddler is the basic building block of comms. And yet far too many people aren’t doing this.

Houston, we have a problem. And unlike this last sentence, which was transmitted clearly from space and the Apollo command module to NASA back in 1970, we as a function are not getting the three basic tenets of communications right.

Listening

Did you recently read about the WHO decision to make Zimbabwe’s President Dr Mugabe a goodwill ambassador. Or the NHS AirBnB concept to free up beds? I once though that such headlines would be the purview of April Fools or the Onion website.

I’m frequently finding that organizations are not listening to their stakeholders, and are making decisions which, in hindsight, turn out to be poorly thought through and which do reputational damage.

Engagement

Part of the reason why we’ve gotten so bad at listening as organizations because we don’t engage with anyone outside our offices. It seems to be a trend for far too many communicators to be glued to their laptops or smartphones and not actually getting out enough to meet face to face with real people.

This trend would also explain why communicators are pushing out content of their choosing rather than actually responding to the needs to their audiences, be they media, consumers or any other group. I’m constantly being told by journalists about how their requests are being ignored, and yet when the firm wants something they’ll be all open to reaching out. What ever happened to give and take, transparency or an open dialogue?

Clear, Understandable Language

No, your office opening won’t revolutionize the region. Your latest product isn’t “a globally recognized innovation”, and your work on developing a new site for buying diapers isn’t groundbreaking.

We have a tendency to use jargon, to make what we’re doing sound smarter, more grandiose than it really is (and it’s not new, as this 2014 article from The Guardian shows).

We need to ask ourselves if our words pass the child’s test. Could we explain what we are doing to a child, and would they get it? If not, then we need to scrap the wording, and drop from the public release all the phrases that we love to use internally.

We all understand the basics of communicating as individuals. We listen to the other person, we engage with them and respond, and we look to do so clearly and concisely (ok, not all of us). If it’s so simple to understand as people, then why do we struggle as organizations to get these basics right? As always, I’d love to know your thoughts on this.

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