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July 13, 2010


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I think this is more than a theory. I'd call this a great insight.

And you have just written the internal communicators manifesto. Can we publish it as such?

"It is why sincere, thoughtful communication—no matter how provocative—is usually a comfort and often a relief from the constant tension of knowledge without permission to acknowledge."

Wow - that is too, too true, and seriously profound!


Yeah, good luck with that. Until there is a fundamental shift in accepted management behavior in our society, we will continue to spoonfeed babies months-old pabulum. You are preaching to the choir, my friend.

Never you mind, Robert!!! It keeps me off the ledge to just hear SOMEBODY say this stuff - even if it isn't "management" - so I know that, at the very least I'm not crazy to believe this myself, okay, Robert?!

So just back off the Murr, you hear???

It's not the I don't agree with everything David is saying. We've all been saying basically the same thing (or variations of it) for a generation. I would like to see us influence the thinking of those who can really do something about it. How could we do that? Oh, I don't know, maybe form a professional association that would lead the way and advocate for our profes... uh... never mind.

Naw, Robert, no professional association--of accountants, of advertising people, of collision repair specialists--ever elevated the importance of their profession in the eyes of others.

I also don't agree that communicators have been united in pushing any theory such as the one I'm advancing here.

The only thing communicators have been united in is wishing communicators were listened to, as a group.

But the thing is, some communicators actually ARE listened to by management--by management at one organization after another.

I have never been one of them, so I'm not always sure how they do it. But one thing some of them have going for them--I'm thinking of the Seitels and the D'Aprix's and the Onodas here--is having a consistent theory, clearly expressed and easily understood by non-communication professionals.

I try to help out in that department. It's humble work, I know ...

I love this David.

You said you were done, passed the torch to the next guy, and then, out of the blue, you go deeper than ever before.

Your great insight explains why so many executives don't want to pay any attention to internal communication. Instinctively, they know that many distrust or hate or resent them, and they are afraid of bringing that fact out in the open. Truly caring about communication would bare their souls to the harsh wind of reality. It's a force too powerful and abrasive to bear.

Then let me clarify: This is a descriptive aspiration of our profession that has been promoted -- if not articulated as well -- in every conference I've ever attended in my 25 years as a communicator.

And I strenuously disagree that a professional association cannot make a difference in how that profession is viewed. "Has not," perhaps, but not "cannot." We've been going at it all wrong -- instead of just preaching the gospel to the converted (communicators), we should also be attacking the problem at the root. That means influencing how business communication theory is taught at the university level -- not just in communication programs, but in business management programs.

"That means influencing how business communication theory is taught at the university level -- not just in communication programs, but in business management programs."

This is another notion that's been bandied about for a quarter century or more. Who are these practitioners or association executives who have the required copious time and energy to worm their way into the hearts and minds of vast numbers of b-school academics and convince them that communication is important?

Don't accuse me of being ineffectual when your own proposals are flaccid.

Here's what I really think: I think communicators will ALWAYS have to prove themselves, one by one, barring a sea change in the political and economic and social context that companies work in.

Right now, treating employees as intelligent equals simply isn't in the best interests of business leaders. It's like that, and that's the way it is.

It's nothing b-school professors can fix, but it's something that communicators and other intelligent employee-relations people can understand, and try, with all their wits and might, to work around.

There's so many practical takeaways from this, it's amazing, David.

- Our job includes hearing all the rumors in the company, and then either verifying them or denying them. This is the greatest service we can provide to employees.

- We are diplomats. Our job includes shuttling back and forth between employees and management layers, being as honest as possible with both and translating what each side says for the other side.

- If a diplomat is caught lying or shading the truth too much, they will never be trusted by either party again. But honest mistakes can be corrected.

- Our efforts gone wrong can cause a war.

Yes, and I'd add that employee communicators should not work in an organization where basic goodwill isn't assumed, because in such organizations, too much shading is often required, and honest mistakes can cause wars.

And in such organizations, the truth-tellers can get their souls destroyed.

Wow... send this to the New Yorker! You write with such surgical precision. Love it!

Is this somewhat akin to the "figured 'em out" theory of our youth?

You mean our theory about the way they "figured out" baseball pitchers, right? In that case, yes: It is somewhat related.

You write well will be waiting for your new publications.

Happy New Year! Happiness and success in 2011.

Great post. Reminds me of Plato's theory of education, which was that everyone already knows everything and the teacher's job was to help them re-remember it. Puts a different spin on teaching, for sure.

I'd just maybe caution that there is a reason for the divide between openly acknowledge and subconsciously suppressed truths, and that confronting people with their "shadows" can be both dangerous and possibly unnecessary. Human beings can not handle too much truth.

I'd also point out that there is a difference between that which is tacitly acknowledged but unspoken vs. that which is truly unconscious to the individuals or organization. And that distinction might have some bearing on whether you want to dig it out and slap it on the table as public spectacle.

Now, from an Advertising point of view, I think this is THE key to everything. And perhaps the most famous advertising guru to profess this theory was Tony Schwartz, whose idea of the "Responsive Chord" echoes (pun intended) your own theory. His idea wasn't to explicitly state what everyone already knew, but to get imply it in a way that made that implicit knowledge necessary for filling in the dots and getting the message. If you say it, I might dispute it, even if part of me knows you're saying the truth. If I use that knowledge to read between the lines, then I can't really help but acknowledge it as truth. Tony's Daisy commercial is a perfect example of that. The ad never mentions Goldwater. We project his name into the ad ourselves.

- Jeff

Great comment, Jeff. I agree with everything but the "human beings can not handle too much truth" bit. I think they handle an unbelievable amount of truth. But through fantastic tricks of the mind, they handle it at varying levels of consciousness which they juggle amazingly, gracefully well.

I communicate with you when I need you to change your juggling pattern.

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