There is an unflattering news clip making the rounds right now of B.C. Premier Christy Clarke’s new communications director. I am sure it is going to be included in every media training session for the next decade – it is a perfect example of what not to do. If you haven’t seen it, you can view it here.
I have an entire rant about how valuable journalists are to a free and just society and how I believe communicators and journalists actually work in partnership (we don’t always have to agree or even like each other, but we do have work together). The actions of this communicator go against everything I believe you should do in media relations. But that’s not what I am going to talk about today. Today, inspired by this video, I want to go back to some common courtesies of communication. The basics.
I am often amazed (and appalled) at the lack of courtesy and common decency that I see in the world. Seemingly small things like please and thank you. Holding a door so that the person behind you doesn’t get it slammed on them. Responding to an email or phone call in a timely fashion. Showing up on time to meetings and appointments… the list goes on.
In the business world, there are a few things that I think are important when it comes to the basic tenets of good communication. Some of these are basic manners like those your mother taught you, some are plain old common sense, and others are about doing the right thing even when it’s inconvenient.
View the people around you as colleagues or equals – not underlings.
I have had the opportunity to work with some of the best of the best in journalism and as a communicator. The people who have accomplished the most (and I have to say are the happiest) are the ones who build strong relationships with those around them – not just with those in more senior positions who can help.
In this video, it looks like the communications person thinks the media are not her equals – her lack of respect for them is obvious. If she had seen them as colleagues* and had been respectful of their perspective in this situation, this could have turned out quite differently.
*Don’t get me wrong here; I realize that some relationships with journalists won’t be easy. When we pitch media on behalf of clients, we view the information through the lens of a journalist. We poke holes in the news value, we criticize and critique the information we want to share, and we know it has to meet a certain standard before a journalist is going to be interested in what we have to say. I believe that our society needs journalists. They make my job tougher, but they make me a better communicator. And I believe that when communicators do their job well, some journalists see us a resource – and as a colleague.
I realize that in the business world, sometimes this can feel challenging. Being truthful doesn’t mean you have to tell all – there are parts of your workday that are confidential and need to be kept that way. If you can’t talk about something, explain that you can’t talk about it at this point because of XYZ. If you made a mistake, come clean. Explain what happened, why it happened and how it will never happen again. I would also hope you would show some concern, compassion and care about what happened. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s when you try to lie your way out of them, or don’t seem to care about the people affected, that it becomes a problem.
There are little things you do all day long that send out a much bigger message than you realize.
Respond to Emails
When you get an email from a colleague, a client, your agency or even your family – what do you do? Ignore it? Put it aside to answer later? Delete it? Unless you are trying to discourage Cousin Edith from sending you another funny cat video, respond to your emails within 24 hours. Even if that response is just – “I received this and I will get back to you by Friday.” Don’t leave people wondering if you got the email or if you are ignoring them.
Pick Up the Phone
Don’t just email – pick up the phone and talk to people. Emailing, texting and other online communications are great. Don’t forget to call them or, even better, go and see them in person. Nothing replaces in-person contact.
Respect Other People’s Deadlines and Timelines
You aren’t the only person in the world who is under deadline pressure. If you promise something to someone and you can’t meet the deadline, let them know.
Be On Time
Don’t keep people waiting. That sends a message that you think their time isn’t as valuable as yours. Show up on time.
If you are meeting with someone, don’t keep checking your smartphone for emails or texts – unless you have an issue or crisis happening. If that’s the case, apologize and explain you have an issue or crisis.
Say please and thank you.
It seems simple, but acknowledging the efforts of others in such a simple way is a big thing.
Please, please – don’t chew gum like the person in the video. I don’t need to see the gum in your mouth while you are talking.
I would love to hear your ideas of what “little things” make a big impact.