Many (some say all) organisational, institutional or government communications efforts are about influence and/or behaviour change. A point often missed is that communications cannot be a bolt-on activity that happens in isolation from other actions. If you are generally “making friends” with your audience, it will be a lot easier to influence them – as J.S.Knox writes “You cannot antagonize and influence at the same time.” Time and time again I come across well-educated policy formers, peace builders, and frontline campaigners who are attempting to build a strategy for their work without including an element of strategic communications from the outset. There is a need to grasp that every activity you are engaged in will influence (there is no such thing as “not communicating” – everything sends a message). So, the way the phone is answered, your level of cultural awareness, the tone of an email, the policies you promote, and physical campaigns (e.g. military/peacekeeping/law enforcement activity) will all have an impact on your effectiveness to communicate other messages.
Communications is a golden thread that should run through everything you do. Last month I spoke about British Diplomacy at a primary school in rural Hertfordshire (UK). I had great fun talking with a bunch of 10 year olds not just about the Foreign Service, but about how they felt about the countries they had visited and how they thought they could represent Britain and why that was important (e.g. for trade and political support).
Some insightful quotes:
“It is best not to get drunk too much when you are in another country or people will think British people are all silly”
“If people came to our village they would think we were very friendly – unless they met the teenagers!”
“People who fly planes and work at airports are like Ambassadors really”
“When I saw people hitting their children in one country I went to, I thought that they must not be very nice people”
From talking to these youngsters I saw that they had an instinctive sense of how your behaviour shapes opinions. To put it simply, they seemed to “get it” better than some high-level clients I have had the pleasure of working with. In their world, those teachers who were good “friendly” communicators were able to achieve behaviour change more effectively than those teachers who antagonized. They also understood well that in a way similar to how community journalists (bloggers) are often more trusted than traditional print media (which is plagued by “agenda”) an independent individual can sometimes have more credibility as a representative (as citizen diplomats).
Perhaps we over analyse, we are in too close, to see the simplicity in the bigger picture. Everything you say and do matters – whether your aim is to make friends in the school yard or to persuade a section of society to desist violence. I encourage anyone working on a plan or a strategy for your activity to include or have a keen awareness of communications from the outset.
Photo Credit: Flickr user imediate.community