The events of the past several months have created some profound challenges for communications professionals, including our clients. Across the globe, traditional news outlets have been undermined by accusations of “fake news,” while we watch the misstatements of government officials re-labelled as “alternative facts.”
Our responsibility to acknowledge alternative voices or opinions in our client communications has never been more pronounced. While political discourse has suffered the most, the business and trade media on which we have relied as key communications channels are not immune. There is an enormous level of distrust in all media, across all audiences.
So how can we hope to deliver credible, trusted messages in this era where the act of communicating itself is suspect?
Simply, we must escape from the bubbles we’ve built around ourselves, and then find new ways to communicate with diverse and highly skeptical audiences. As communications professionals, it is our responsibility to acknowledge different viewpoints, and our duty to:
- Foster an open dialogue;
- Develop an understanding for those who see and experience things differently; and
- Reflect this understanding in our messages.
While this can be intimidating, breaking out of our bubbles can start with something as simple as active listening.
Acknowledging Conflicting Voices with Active Listening
Active listening starts with acknowledging that you have been in your own bubble.
Next, we need to learn what’s inside those other bubbles – discover what’s important to each audience, how they view the world, and how they intake and react to information. Acknowledge that other people see things differently.
Even though your viewpoint may differ – and you may sincerely believe that all the facts support your viewpoint – the simple fact of acknowledging differences with respect is the key to opening a dialogue.
While this can be tricky to navigate, it’s important to keep in mind the goal – get out of our bubbles and understand the wider conversation.
We can’t do this by just talking at people. We must talk with them.
To What Extent Do We Acknowledge Different Viewpoints?
When managing a brand, opening up a dialogue with audiences outside of our bubbles will naturally raise concerns. By taking ourselves and our clients outside of their comfort zones, and welcoming conflicting reactions, we raise the question – how far does this go?
We must keep in mind that open dialogue does not mean debate. Respectful engagement, rather, allows us to build trust and use what we learn from those open conversations to inform our clients’ programs.
For example, we often talk about “humanizing” our clients’ stories, but when you are inside a bubble, you dismiss many people who think differently, that feel that they never see themselves in ads or on a website. And if they don’t see themselves in the story, they aren’t likely to listen to it.
Even with day-to-day client work, find ways to tell your clients’ stories that are both genuine, but also reflect the worldview of each audience, and you may be able to present your facts in a way that others will accept.
I’ve realized that I have to burst my bubble, and get way outside my comfort zone to best serve my clients. I have to ask the tough questions, sure, but more importantly, be willing to listen and seek different answers.
The work of communications in today’s environment must be to break down barriers, build trust, and bridge the enormous gaps that exist between different audiences.
Words matter. What we choose to say and how will restore the ability to have a productive dialogue.