Saturday, May 11, 2013

So Talking Points Are Evil Now?


I get a call the other day: "How are you?"
"Honestly," I say, slumping down in my Metro seat, "I am exhausted."
And I am exhausted. I'm so exhausted I can't remember what exhausted means. Everybody I know is exhausted. We seem to be running at a faster and faster pace and accomplishing just about...the same as before we were so exhausted.
...back to the conversation. The reply: "Well I can understand that, what with all the talking points going back and forth there in DC."
There I am, shoulders down. Literally waves of tiredness flowing upon me. It is late on a Friday, and the work is not done. Higher volume, limited resources, limited time. So much more to go.
What do I do all day? Make sure the facts are right...get the facts right.
We confuse the outcomes with the tools.
When a patient dies on the operating table, we don't stop doing surgery. We do ask - was the surgery necessary? Doctor qualified? Environment sanitary? Were there complications?
When a car goes over a cliff we do not stop driving either. (Actually I know someone who did stop driving when her car hit a side rail on the Beltway, swirled around and round in the rain, and got totaled. But that was temporary till she could work through all the trauma and the fear.) We do not outlaw cars.
And if a person is kidnapped from a grocery store parking lot, do we shut down all the grocery stores or stop shopping? Or maybe parking lots are bad?
So I ask this question now. 
Why is it that every time there is a complex, sensitive issue or controversy, we veer away from the controversy itself and start questioning the need for standard communication tools?
Talking points are a critical piece of every communicator's knowledge base. Nobody should walk into a briefing without them.
Furthermore, if you're talking to the public in the early aftermath of a horrible and tragic incident, you will of course have to vet those talking points extensively - get everyone's input - and yes, of course you can have a dozen versions or more.
This post is not focused on any particular instance or incident. I'm not trying to secretly advocate a certain point of view. But I do want to call b.s. on the notion that professional communication is somehow suspect simply by the nature of its existence.
No matter what the polls say about trust in government - and it is at a historic low - we do take very seriously the content of our communication. What we say is carved in stone forever.
It's time we stop blaming surgery for malpractice, cars for car accidents, parking lots for kidnapping, and talking points for the content of the messaging.

* As always, all opinions are my own.



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