The Communications Conundrum

July 22, 2014

By: Nick Andrews

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Communications is not, intellectually, very complicated. It’s not like quantum physics or complex neurosurgery, for example, and very few of us have PhDs. But despite this, communications is very rarely done well. This is, as I like to call it, the Communications Conundrum. An apparently easy thing done, more often than not, remarkably badly.

So, why is this? Partly, I think, it’s the fact that communications involves people and people, as we know, are annoying. People (other people, obviously – not us) don’t do what they ought to do, don’t listen, happily hold contradictory views all at the same time, don’t act when they say they will or act when they say they won’t, believe the incredible or dismiss the logical. People are complex and awkward and are also both the conduit and the recipient of what we do. People make communications difficult.

I don’t think, though, that ‘people’ are entirely to blame. Or rather, I think that people who make decisions in companies are often more to blame than most. I’m increasingly of the view that the reason why many organisations find communicating effectively so hard is that, deep down, they don’t really want to do it. Or, rather, they don’t want to do the things they know they have to do to communicate well. They keep hoping that there’s another way.

At the risk of straying into dangerous territory, it’s a bit like losing weight. There are few people who don’t know that to lose weight you need to eat less and exercise more. ‘Calories in’ need to be less than ‘calories out’. Simple. But doing it is hard. We don’t want to exercise and we like our food. It’s all undesirable and unpleasant, so we don’t do it.

Equally, companies know that to be authentic and to build trust, they need to empower their employees to speak, to embrace simplicity, to build and engage in online communities, to demonstrate transparency and to ‘work out loud’. They know their reputation is valuable and worth investing in and that there is a direct line of site between the amount of resource committed and their reputational strength. They know this, but often they just don’t want to do it. The approval processes are vexed, the lack of control troubling, the budget process difficult and weighted against communications, the arguments un-won internally.

These are not external obstacles, note. They are internal, the company getting in its own way, tripping itself up. Perhaps the real Communications Conundrum is that, with all this understanding of what to do, why more companies aren’t doing it.

Nick Andrews is FleishmanHillard’s Reputation Practice Leader for EMEA. You can reach him at nick.andrews@fleishmaneurope.com.