It’s a familiar political strategy. A candidate states that she will support donut lovers and declare a special donut day if she’s elected. Sounds harmless enough, right?
Her opponent uses that promise to instill fear and anger in the bagel-loving community. The candidate obviously hates bagels, and if she is elected, the future of the doughy rings of bread are at risk.
While the example used of twisting words and intentions is a silly one, we’re watching big issues being dissected in much the same way in political ads these days. The prevalence of these ads and the dollars invested in them reinforce that this political strategy works.
For business leaders who don’t seek political office but still have the ear of stakeholders, namely employees, customers and other business associates, these direct and overt attacks are less of a threat. However, what they say — no matter how routine it feels or how well-intentioned it may be — also can easily be misconstrued. And in today’s divisive world, actions, words and tone — or even absence from the podium at times of great importance — are being dissected and interpreted with heightened scrutiny.
Individuals and their perspectives are unique, and that individuality is important and cause for celebration. Yet, it also requires professional communicators to be more astute than ever.
Who are you engaging? How are you engaging? What is your position? What are the pros and cons to this position? Is extra context around this position required? Will this position negatively affect people who matter to you or your business? How will you bridge that gap?
Developing talking points and putting words to paper seem deceptively clear cut. And the task becomes even more complex when polarizing issues need to be addressed. No matter the challenge, establishing a sound communications strategy will help you to navigate the situation and assess and protect relationships.
But what happens when an announcement of donut day elicits controversy? Even seemingly inconsequential statements and actions can prove consequential. Actions matter. Intent matters. Words matter. Broad awareness and consideration of issues, audience individuality and how a message may be received matter. This knowledge should inform communications.
Good communicators focus as much time and energy on anticipating audience reaction and reception as they do crafting the message being delivered. Everyday miscommunications and misunderstandings are much less sinister than political attack ads, yet their ramifications threaten reputations, company cultures, brand equity and, potentially, bottom lines.