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Communicate With Each Other
Evolution of communication and onset of social media
There have undoubtedly been major technological improvements that have changed how information is collected and transmitted on a micro and macro scale. Social media, be it Twitter, Facebook, Linked-In, Instagram, Pinterest… and the list goes on, has revolutionized the way we communicate.
In the public sector, social media certainly plays a crucial role in the way messages are delivered, but the message must be accurate, clear and consistent across the organisation.
We live in a 24/7/365 society. The faster the better right? If you read it on the internet, it must be true. Any information is better than no information or is it? Getting the message out as quickly as possible, especially during an emergency timing is everything. How many times have you read an online article with grammatical or factual errors? The use of social media must be carefully planned and strategically implemented organization-wide for the purpose(s) for which it is intended otherwise it will be counterproductive, ineffective, potentially harmful and in extreme cases can cause public doubt, fear and mistrust.
It used to be think before you speak, say what you mean and mean what you say, but now it’s read and re-read, don’t act hastily and read and re-read before typing send. The evolution of communication, while providing an opportunity to quickly convey data and messages to a large audience, is a powerful tool, but instant misinformation cannot and should not replace accurate information. There must be an appropriate balance between timing, quantity and quality of messages and information.
This evolution of high-tech communication is also somewhat of a paradox in that the speed and number of people to whom a message can be communicated at once should give pause and encourage public sector employees to be deliberate in what being said and how it can be interpreted. Remember this isn’t Las Vegas – everything you say or do, especially in a public setting or forum, can be evaluated and scrutinized by a large audience in the amount of time it takes to send a tweet or a posting a photo or video on the internet.
Text chats or face-to-face meetings???
What do you prefer? Colin Powell, a military leader and statesman said, “The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stop leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you don’t care. Either way is a failure of leadership.” I believe in the importance of face-to-face meetings; one-on-one communication and/or traditional public forums cannot be overstated nor can their advantage(s) be underestimated.
In the public sector there is something I call the “Fishbowl Effect”. Politics, media, public scrutiny, transparency and accountability all contribute to the “Fishbowl Effect,” which is: if you work in the public sector, you should be held to a higher standard. Your actions speak louder than words and perception is reality. Why?
Self-reflection and individual aptitude are important because working for the public requires a strong commitment to serving and engaging those within the community you are a part of while being an advocate at the same time. Employees in the public sector are fiduciaries of public funds and are therefore entrusted with a tremendous responsibility. In that respect alone, public sector employees have an obligation to talk to those individuals, whether residents, business owners or other stakeholders about what their concerns are, as well as to actively listen and involve them, whether during a planning process , budget hearing or other form of public business.
Phone calls are great, and I try to stick to a 24-hour rule to return a call if I want to at least say I received your message and will get back to you by such and such a date with an answer. Texting and electronic mail are certainly acceptable, but I believe they should be used to supplement, but not replace, phone calls and in-person meetings. I am a fervent believer and advocate that true trust can only be achieved through face-to-face meetings and one-on-one communication, and as public sector employees it is our responsibility to ensure that those opportunities are provided.
Communicate a clear and consistent message
George Seldes, in a 1942 publication of his weekly newsletter, In Fact, Inc. entitled: The Facts Are… : A Guide to Falsehood and Propaganda in the Press and Radio written about the power and corruption of the press, mainly due to its close association with special interests. He said: “What is the most powerful force in America Today? Answer: public opinion. What makes public opinion? Answer: the main force is the press.” Does it still apply today?
I would argue that public opinion is as or more important today than it was in 1942. Whether it’s “the press”, another media outlet or an internet troll, our society is constantly bombarded with information, messages and editorials. Therefore, it is essential, especially in the public sector, that these information transfers are clear, timely, accurate and provide a consistent message.
Throughout history to this day, the media has and always will, through whatever medium, convey news, events and other forms of information to a large audience – the general public. While communication evolved from oral tradition to the written word sent via The Pony Express, the media and power of public opinion remained constant and omnipresent over telegraph wires and fiber optic networks. The only difference is the speed at which messages are sent and received.
Think of public leaders throughout history who embraced the media and used them most effectively as a resource. Many are also referred to as some of history’s most charismatic people. A few come to mind: President Abraham Lincoln, President James A. Garfield, who revolutionized ‘front porch campaigning’, President Theodore Roosevelt who was effective at positively engaging the media but also taught ‘Muckraking’ (a negative metaphor for what is now) commonly referred to as investigative journalism) the power the media had to expose corporate corruption and social ills.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt used frequent radio broadcasts fondly referred to as “Fireside Chats” to enter homes across the country and communicate messages in a manner that captivated the American public and public trust and confidence in him elicited
The power of words
Words, whether spoken, written, texted or tweeted, are powerful and should be chosen carefully, especially during difficult times and under difficult circumstances. I mentioned several public figures throughout history who I believe used the media effectively to convey information to large constituencies.
Think about famous speeches that happened, when they happened and why these speeches may be or should have been some of the most powerful of all time or during critical or watershed moments in our nation’s history. A few come to mind: The Gettysburg Address, President Roosevelt’s address to Congress following the Japanese engagement at Pearl Harbor, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ‘s “I have a Dream” speech and President George W. Bush’s address to the nation on September 11, 2001. All took place over a period of 138 years, each to diverse audiences of various sizes, all of different lengths and mediums , but each required precise delivery and carefully selected words.
During President Roosevelt’s address to Congress after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt was very deliberate in his choice of words. He declared war on Japan, but not on Germany. Three days later, Germany declared war on the United States. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke with incredible conviction and during a most turbulent time in the history of the United States before a large public audience in an emblematic public performance.
Although it was famous at the time, it was this speech and specifically the words, “I have a dream,” that remain embedded in our minds. President Bush addressed the American people following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 by means of a television camera while sitting at a desk and every word he used was carefully chosen, spoken and delivered in a manner that if we country’s leader is obliged to instill confidence in the citizens. an extremely tense and vulnerable moment in the 21st century.
I would encourage you to read or listen to any of the aforementioned speeches and pay particular attention to the choice of words, how they were delivered and the presence commanded by the four speakers. There are numerous other examples that also deserve our attention and each one provides a glimpse into why it is so important to communicate a clear and consistent message. We must also remember that although each of these speeches was directed at a specific audience, they would certainly also be read, seen or heard by larger, more diverse audiences.
What if President Roosevelt or President Bush had not addressed the nation after the events that occurred in 1941 or 2001? Especially, in our 24/7/365 society, what if President Bush waits a day or two to deliver a message? I would suggest that the message would be delivered numerous times by numerous groups and individuals and what impact would it have on the American public or others around the world? Imagine if any of the above speeches never happened?
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