In response to my previous blog about authentic communication (Keeping it Real –posted 13th March) I received a link to an Ezine article on this subject written by training polymath Simon Roskrow in which he referred to an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme with William Stobart – the COO of Eddie Stobart. In the article Roskrow said that, initially, he thought his radio had lost reception as the first question by the interviewer met with a protracted silence but, as the interview progressed, he realised that William Stobart was struggling with either a stammer or stutter or some sort of speech impediment. During the interview and largely as a result of his “authentic” style of speaking, William Stobart came across as a “…deeply honest, trustworthy, straightforward man…”. Roskrow contrasted this with so many interviewees featured on the programme who, all too often, appear to be hiding behind “…weasel words, bland statements, or carefully constructed non-communication.”
This reminded me of an example I had experienced where the corporate comms team had done a mighty disservice to the CEO and turned a good intention into a piece of almost worthless propaganda.
We were half way through the financial year and there seemed to be fires to fight or change initiatives to accommodate at every turn with no let-up in sight. The CEO recognised that everyone was working extremely long hours and morale needed a boost. With the help of his Comms Director he crafted a thoughtful and encouraging email to be sent to all staff recognising the exceptional efforts being made and highlighting a number of successes achieved in the first six months of the year. It was heartfelt, succinct and scored high on the feel-good factor.
However, when it reached everyone’s in-box, it had a carefully selected banner head and key, strategic messages had been picked out in bold type. As a result, it no longer appeared to be a personal message of thanks and encouragement from the CEO, rather a well crafted message from the Comms department. The content hadn’t changed, but the expert styling of the email completely overwhelmed the authenticity of the original message.
Roskrow makes the point that while we can all look to improve our own personal style …. and, as professional communicators, we are often responsible for helping our senior managers to do that…. we should resist any attempt to emulate the “…highly groomed, PR-trained politicians we hear so much from and believe so little about.” After all, as the old saying goes : “You can’t fake sincerity.”