The importance of being earnest
The trick for good communications is not finding a way to obscure the truth, Associate Director Charlie Wilson-Clarke observes but developing the fortitude to be prepared to share it.
Why is the truth so hard to speak?
Time and again, those of us in the communications game are accused of spinning, gilding the lily or sweeping things under the carpet – suggesting that if the message is negative, we don’t dare say so.
The problem with this approach is that it always gets someone in trouble.
There’s as much pain that comes with mishandling the truth as with a negative story itself.
So the trick is not finding a way to obscure the truth, but developing the fortitude to be prepared to share it.
Planning a project that is likely to have one or more adverse environmental effects? Perhaps tell the local community this is likely to occur and explain how you will assess and manage the effects.
Just found out your organisation will lose a massive contract and staff will be laid off? The sooner this is discussed openly, the more likely your stakeholders will take the time to hear the reasons for the downsize rather than interrogate you for how long you have known.
In community and stakeholder engagement, the need for genuine conversations is universal.
Even if it is hard to accept, proponents need never be scared of the following three short phrases:
1. I don’t know.
2. We made a mistake.
3. Things might change.
In fact, many organisations will be surprised how accepting communities and key stakeholders can be when they are confronted with uncompromising, straight up honesty.
The point of any engagement program should always be to build real relationships. How can we claim the relationship is real if we are not willing to confront the issues that make us uncomfortable?
In any difficulty or disagreement, the meaty conversations only happen when there is something serious to discuss.
Presenting the dilemma, asking for stakeholder input and demonstrating how you’ve taken people’s views on board will earn far more respect from stakeholders than scurrying behind the nearest bushes.
Charlie Wilson-Clark is an Associate Director with Cannings Purple and a community and stakeholder engagement specialist, with more than 20 years’ experience and a passion for Indigenous affairs. Contact Charlie.