You’re Saying Important Things. Here’s How to Get People to Believe You.

Simplistic  a world away from simplicity

I'm seeing many guides on remote work online and in email distributions. Some of them touch on an important element of remote work: Communication. But if the importance of good communication practices is critical in heightened situations, I'd like to point out that remote work is a normal reality with customers.

A company's operations are generally opaque to customers and clients. For good reason, what customers and clients care about are the results. They see your communications from the outside in. It's a process that happens at lightening speed: I'm considering if this is a valuable use of my energy, let me see how I'd benefit, and dead last I might look into the features.

In my work with clients, and before that in corporate settings, I help executive teams position for greater outcomes tomorrow. What that means is that we look at what the company is doing and how it's talking about it. The gaps create opportunities, but only when we're able to shift mindset from focusing on messaging to actions first.

What you do is who you are

It took about ten years to understand what Peter Tunjic meant with his exploration of composition. When our conversation turned to the space between things, Peter says he plays with concepts as he works through how context composes. Take a look at his list and its current applicability:

  • What moves slowly or even stand stills (buildings, mountains, streets, trees, people in some capacity)
  • What moves fast, (weather, people and things that can move around)
  • The relationship between slow and fast (resistance) – leading to composition – think of a river – the direction is determined by resistance of the banks to the flow of water
  • The roll of patterns on composition– seasons, the way people walk to work
  • The relationship between what we intend (seen as intellect) and our intent (seen as behavior) on composition
  • Time as a poor measure of composition

Think about composition as it relates to communication. In the sense of this article, I intend all forms of communications, including marketing, brand messaging, political, etc. Take time, how many watched the crisis develop without taking steps because they felt the situation didn't apply to their own context?

Anyone who's ever felt their message did not get across could look at the relationship between what you intend in your head, and the intent, what you just did. Make a game of it. Start reading and listening while trying to spot the gap in different contexts. Be compassionate and loving as you spot them, but learn from it.

Peter talked about modern virtues, something I've seem mentioned purposefully only three times before: By philosopher Alain de Botton as timeless principles to adopt, by Benjamin Franklin in the context of a virtuous life, and by Ben Horowitz in the excellent book I'm just finishing, What You Do Is Who You Are.

Virtues are to values what action is to thought. In other words, you do virtues. De Botton defined timeless virtues, Franklin provided a handy guide to practice them, Horowitz gave me the best definition of the difference between value e virtue. There's a simple way to tell: Are you living them?

“Our people are our best asset.” How do you do that in your decisions? Are you hiring accordingly? Are you being overly cautious and providing the tools and support employees need right now? How about communicating sincerely with them?

“We're all in this together.” Is that really everyone? Does it include hourly workers? Is that also true for freelancers? Do we apply it to janitors as to C-suite? Is this how we negotiate with partners? It's a statement that declares a two-way street.

Most companies define values, few have principles, guides of behavior, not so many have virtues, a code of action. Why? Because it's so damn hard to apply them universally.

Your virtue is your command

Companies are more engaged with altruism right now. This is how I prefaced my communications with clients in the last weeks. There was no sinister purpose, as you'll see in a moment. From experience, I know that in times of heightened uncertainty and potential crisis, clients and customers prefer:

  • clear communication vs. marketing 
  • honest corporate social responsibility (CSR) messages vs. CSR-washing
  • simple education that is not simplistic
  • clear direction and preventive measures vs. reaction
  • virtuous behavior vs. shared values messaging
  • content about essential vs. non-essential things
Companies that behave this way are able to demonstrate:
  • poise and empathy (actions before words)
  • they are listening and responding (tone-deaf is even more strident)
  • preparedness and kindness (focus vs. spray and pray)
  • transparency (how we’re contributing)
  • network awareness (ecosystem support)
And build culture in a positive direction. You can create culture by living the right virtues. Horowitz proposes three questions to help think about the effectiveness of virtues: Is your virtue attainable? Does your virtue distinguish your culture? If you're tested on this virtue, will you pass the test?
Walking the talk, listening actively are also part of good communication practices. Communication is critical in times of heightened uncertainty and potential risk, and a two-way street. When in doubt, over-communicate.
Here's what I mean by that: Say things in different ways; say less, more regularly; say it better!

Who do you believe?

Culture is a choice you make every day, every message, every campaign, every interaction. It's the one thing that makes a big difference in times of crisis. How you behave either creates a bank account of goodwill, or a reputational deficit. But wait, you may say, don't companies that behave badly rebound?
Watch compound effects, it's one of those things that fit composition. Repeat a few errors in judgement often enough, and you have a credibility gap. There's no Hail Mary for someone who's lost that. There's nothing more instructive to find out who you believe than when a crisis hits.
In crisis mode, every communication is a public service announcement (PSA). For a while now, we've been living in a state of permanent exclamation marks, arrogance, and sly tricks. This context has created an environment of confusion, reaction, and a loss of reference points.
Aristotle said that we can achieve virtue by maintaining the Mean, a balance between two excesses. He also said:
“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
Buddha referred to the Middle Path as a peaceful way of leading life by negotiating between asceticism and pleasure seeking. Walpola Rahula says:
“First of all, Buddhism is neither pessimistic nor optimistic. If anything at all, it is realistic, for it takes a realistic view of life and the world. It looks at things objectively (yathābhūtam). It does not falsely lull you into living in a fool's paradise, nor does it frighten and agonize you with all kinds of imaginary fears and sins. It tells you exactly and objectively what you are and what the world around you is, and shows you the way to perfect freedom, peace, tranquility and happiness.”
Be a realist. Know which parts of you and your company need work, and work on them. Trust, but verify. Making favorable choices requires a clear understanding of what and who creates value. This is the silver lining of resetting so many things we took for granted all at once. Choose your culture.
If you want to spend a few minutes discussing how to rethink your communications, reach out.


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