Michigan State University’s handling of communications around the trial of sexual predator Dr. Larry Nassar is an advanced case study in how to destroy an organization’s reputation. From an outside perspective, the university’s leaders appear to have made two dangerous decisions that are all too common for organizations in crisis: They only listened to the lawyers, and they put themselves before the organization.
I’ve got a new article in Think Freely Media’s “What Should Be Said” series, looking at the rhetoric from Venezuela’s socialist leadership versus the reality of societal collapse in a formerly prosperous country: Venezuelan Socialists Blame Capitalism for Socialism’s Starvation.
I read something worthwhile at FEE virtually every day. That’s why I’m incredibly proud that they liked something I wrote enough to publish it today.
I joked on Twitter today that I was going to save this graphic from a depressing Annenberg Center study for the next time I had to convince a policy wonk to tone down the complexity of their messaging for a general audience.
There is a serious point behind that joke: One of the most important roles a communicator plays in an organization is serving as the proxy for their audiences. Before you can communicate effectively with an audience, you have to be able to listen to them — and listen as them — as well.
This is especially critical for groups engaged in advocacy or education, such as think tanks. Communicators have to help subject matter experts distill their work into messaging that’s appropriate for each unique audience, while keeping it all consistent enough across those tiers of complexity. This avoids what I’ve called “messaging arbitrage,” where your inconsistencies in what you say to different audiences can be collected and used against you.
To accomplish this, the communicator needs to be able to put themselves in the audience’s mindset and understand what they value, what they know and what they understand. This lets them be an effective sounding board or even gatekeeper for their subject matter experts, who understandably struggle with the “Curse of Knowledge” in these situations and can value comprehensiveness of argument over comprehension.
I was struck by the way the unions and their allies in Missouri are trying to co-opt the language of individual liberty and thought it would be worthwhile to follow their rhetoric about rights to the logical conclusion. (Spoiler: It’s not where they say it is.)