Thursday, December 16, 2010

Let's Be Honest

In over three years of blogging, I’ve never written about my work. This is mainly because my job has nothing to do with the things I normally write about: wine, food, gardening and, of course, dogs.

It’s also because I might write something snarky that would lead somebody to believe that I don’t really, really appreciate my job.

I work in communications for a large company. It’s been my first experience with corporate America, and it’s made me very interested in how companies create messages – from the most basic to the most important. Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how a company’s message and its actions are intrinsically linked.

The most important element of effective communications is the truth. If you say one thing and do another, people will see right through it. This should be common sense, but it amazes me how often it’s overlooked or completely ignored.

Years ago, I spent a few months working with a great group of people at an ad agency pitching a new account. They put together a presentation built around that simple element of communications – truth.

The final presentation was pretty awesome, but they didn’t win the account. However, the concept has always stayed with me. All good communication starts with the truth.

Unfortunately, as some people rise to leadership positions (or political office) they lose the desire to hear (or speak) the truth. They surround themselves with people who are adept at saying the right thing instead of what needs to be said. This creates a culture of untruth.

That’s unfortunate because you can spend millions on an advertising or public relations campaign, but if what you’re communicating isn’t true – your money is wasted.

In vino vertis. The Greek poet, Alcaeus, is credited with that little gem of wisdom. It apparently came from the idea that you can’t tell lies after a couple cups of wine.

Maybe they should start serving wine in Congress.

Although it’s possible that I’ve stretched the truth a time or so after too many glasses of wine, I do agree with the basic premise. It may explain why creative types like to do their brainstorming away from the office over some drinks.

These days, it’s increasingly difficult to hide from the truth because technology has sped up the flow of information. Why not just embrace the truth instead?

Sound naïve? Maybe it is, but research actually shows that an apology with an unqualified acceptance of responsibility makes people very forgiving. In other words, no matter how bad you screwed up, just be honest about it and most people will let you off the hook.

With all this in mind, here are my three rules for business communications.

1.) Be honest with your customers.
2.) Be honest with your employees.
3.) Be honest with yourself.

If you find any of the rules problematic, you might want to consider why you're in business in the first place.

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