Sunday, July 31, 2016

Compassionate Communication, Part 2: Political Messaging's Parallels to Workforce Communication

In my last post, I made this statement:

The dynamics of effective on-the-job communication involve the intentional undoing of basic human biases that have deep, deep roots.

Watching the recent American political conventions, I was impressed by how applicable that statement is to political messaging as well.

There were many "No" and "Mine" themes in the speeches -- and also many attempts to link the pursuit of "No" and "Mine" individual preferences to maintaining the overall "Yes" and "Share" good of the organization.

(Don't know what I mean?  Click here to read my previous post and find out.)

Political Persuasion and Point of View

I'm not that interested in debating the various planks in political platforms, but I do find politics to be a fascinating window on humanity -- and particularly on human communication strategies. Just as the conflicts of early childhood set the stage for all human communication, the power struggles of adulthood play up those same conflicts and the same motivation to persuade, and prevail, in a war of words.  

In that vein, do you agree with this statement from a noted political analyst?

"We have now finished two weeks of two conventions by two parties....They weren't just offering two different political visions. In many ways, they were offering two radically different versions of reality.
In that sense, the gap between the two conventions was an accurate reflection of where we are as a country. There really are two very different visions of reality competing in the political campaigns underway this year--with their own value systems, sets of ideas, and interpretations of the facts... two very different versions of reality in America...
The election this November is certainly a contest between two candidates, but it is also a contest between these two versions of reality."

Is that true?  Is the current American presidential campaign also a bigger referendum on how to interpret our present world?

If so, shouldn't American voters consider, not just the candidates' worth, but the basic validity of the views they espouse? Instead of merely letting either candidate tell us how to think, or letting our own prejudices tell us which team to blindly follow, shouldn't we first do our own research and draw our own conclusions about the state of the country and the world, so that we get a clear and rational picture of our own version of reality?

That's some assignment. But, fellow Americans, as of today we have 99 days to do it. If we challenge ourselves to take our citizenship seriously, I think that over the next 16 weeks, we might each be able to indulge in a little less mindless entertainment to spend some time giving mindful attention to what's really going on in the world.

Then, on Election Day, should we really merely "vote our conscience"? Or should we also vote our congruity?

Political Persuasion: The Workplace Parallel

Business people:  do you realize that your messaging to your workforce sets up a similar comparison?  Your employees are interpreting your every announcement, email, casual remark, and non-verbal signal as an indicator of your own worldview.  They want to evaluate, not just what you say, but the version of reality from which you speak.  And they have the power to "vote their congruity" every time they clock in and start their workday.  

To the extent that you can make it plain to your employees that your worldview is compatible with their own, you can persuade them to work for your "cause" (your company) with a fuller measure of engagement.

I have devoted many posts on this blog to messaging tips and techniques that increase employee engagement (type polarization in the Search window to see some of them).  However, if your goal is 100 % engagement, nothing you do can be as effective as what you ultimately believe -- because that will color all your communications.  It is a reflection of who you ultimately are.  And people are most most loyal to someone who shares their idea of what is important. 

Bottom line:

  • If they can truly believe in your cause (your company) -- if its purpose and policies are a strong fit with their interpretation of reality -- then employees will be your willing (and productive) partners. Your role will be that of a positive creativity enhancer, providing tools, tips and motivation for staff to do their jobs well and take pride in the organization's achievements.
  • If there is any gap at all between your values and theirs, there will be a corresponding "reluctance gap" that will interfere in nearly every task your employees undertake. To the degree that happens, your management role will become that of a negative relationship repairer. Instead of pulling from the front, you will be pushing from behind, more concerned with the trailing edge of trouble than the leading edge of innovation and accomplishment.

Ask yourself:  Which of those classifications describe the bulk of your daily workforce communications? 

I honestly can't say that either American presidential candidate is doing a great job as a "positive creativity enhancer" at this point.  It's not an easy target for business leaders, either.  Remember, workforce messaging is all about overcoming the earliest self-serving human biases to direct people's interest and energy toward meeting the needs of the group. And that's a tall order.

Take a look at the vision of reality that you project into every message you send out.  Is it a workable vision for your employees?  Are they feeling a resonance, and reapplying themselves daily to pursuing great results?  Or are they sensing a dissonance, and digging in their heels to impede progress?

Still to come: We're still just beginning on this journey.  Part 3 of this series will consider how to make Compassionate Communication a working element of your leadership messaging -- in whichever role you are currently compelled to play.