The Hidden Connection Between Political Rhetoric and Employee Communication

The most important communication advice you can give a leader:

Treat people like adults, not children. Don't follow the conventional
practice, which has the audience constantly receiving the equivalent
of baby-babble.

Yet too often, instead of leaders telling people the raw, hard-hitting
information they need to know in order to help the company earn more
money (or the country recover from a slump), they take the easy way
out and the audience gets pap.

This is not to say that soft talk has no place in leader-led
communication - it does. But a steady diet of dessert eventually gives
everyone a bellyache.

When you're on the outside looking in, it is hard to understand how
anyone could be so shortsighted that they dumb things down for a
grown-up audience. But on the inside there are millions of excuses.
All of them come down to one thing: Really straight communication is
an "I lose, you win" proposition - there is nothing in it for the
communicator who tells it like he or she sees it.

If you are the one sitting opposite an executive and advising them
what to do, you are faced with a difficult challenge. By telling them
to speak openly and honestly (of course, with some polish and
diplomacy), you are pushing them to risk their livelihood. It is their
name, their reputation, their business card on the line. And even if
they were to take the risk, around them is a sea of people just
waiting for a moment of vulnerability - so that they can take
advantage. What is the guarantee they will come out on top?

Of course, the answer is - there are no guarantees. Further, only a
handful of communicators are good enough executive coaches to help a
skittish, vulnerable leader change their self-protective orientation
toward employees or the public. Not to mention sufficiently skilled
organizational development coaches that they can change a climate
where traditional corporate-talk rules the day regardless of the

At the end of the day, opening up is a matter of trust; it can be a
mistake to take that step in an unforgiving and distorting world; and
new jobs are hard to come by these days. The way that I think about it
is - short-term vs. long-term. In the short-term if you do a soft-shoe
you may get away with it for awhile. In the long-term, people will
catch on and stop trusting you. And when you do the dance of not being
fully honest, people will read it in your body language; they will
hear it in your tone; they will see it in your eyes. You can't keep up
the facade for long.

If you are a communicator and you need to convince an executive to
change, take a page from Roger Ailes' playbook ("You Are The
Message"): hold up the TV camera, the microphone, the mirror. When
they see the way they come across, they will realize for themselves
whether they are off-track or on. What they do with that information
is ultimately up to them.

Good luck!

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