What is the most important role for a communicator?

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Communicating something is the easy part.

At least for a corporate or political communicator. Afterall that’s what we do. It’s because we know what to say, how to say it, to whom, where, when and why that people employ communicators.

The difficult part is finding out the truth.

It is the truth in any situation which should form the basis of the communication.

In my experience hardly anybody  in an organisation ever knows what the truth is.

I should add that I have only ever worked in or for massive global businesses. The complexity and complication of such businesses means that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to define a truth.

This is the challenge for the communicator in such organisations. Not because our job is to just blurt out the truth. Anybody can do that. Our need is to know the truth so we can decide how much of it, if any of it, should be told.

When the negative story about the business (or government) hits the headlines, the most often heard question around top tables is “do we do that?” The answers are invariably convoluted, conflated, confused or non-existent.

Very few, if any, executives in most big organisations have much idea of what happens at any point very far down the corporate food train from their direct responsibilities.

Businesses with complex international supply chains and partner relationships are the ones with most tricky problems in this area. I’m struggling to think of an instance over the past four decades I’ve been communicating and campaigning when something went wrong and it wasn’t my job to try to find out the truth, and then advise on how much of that truth was helpful to share.

Knowing which questions to ask, how to ask them, and how many times to ask them is an essential skill. Usually the same question needs to be asked at least three times in different ways to get anywhere near the truth.

If asked to identify the single most important role of a corporate or political communicator, this would be my answer.

Communicating is a doddle. Knowing what to communicate is bloody difficult. If I was on TV’s “Mastermind” I’d have “Asking difficult questions” as my specialist subject.

 

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