Don’t expect people to listen if all you do is talk

It’s time we talked about trust and truth.

Trust is something that is earned.

Trust is bestowed, it is not a commodity that can be taken or acquired.

Trust is – at its epicentre – the conveyance and acceptance of truth.

The truth is sometimes uncomfortable, embarrassing and outright shameful.

The truth can hurt us just as it can hurt others.

Yet the truth is always noble – a raw glimpse of vulnerability into the human condition.

When former United States President Bill Clinton said “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” at his impeachment hearing in 1998 – no one cared or was the least bit surprised by his lack of zipper control. What was central to the scandal was a lack of perceived trust due to his self-interested recollections of the truth.

Trust in a communications setting directly correlates with truth. We all know that the adage “actions speak louder than words” is true yet we do nothing to further that ideation into action in real life most of the time. Those that dare to try and challenge this status quo face a chorus of opposition in favour of corporate statements spun to make decision makers feel like they are in control. The truth is inconvenient and anyone looking for it is treated like an inconvenience. This isn’t communicating – it’s broadcasting.

Those with a broadcast mentality erroneously think that “broadcast” and “communication” are the same thing. Perhaps this was true up until the 1990’s before the internet began democratizing information but when the likes of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter solidified their presence in the 24/7 news media cycle – trying to put that square peg into a social media, issues management and crisis communication shaped hole simply doesn’t work.

Understanding how to cultivate trust via investing in your audience through constructive communication and engagement is lost on people who think just because they or their organisation talks, the people they want to receive their message will listen.

If you talk and no-one trusts you, your audience aren’t listening.

All they see is spin and validations of the rhetoric they already believe to be true.

If you talk and no-one trusts you, it doesn’t matter how well you polish those buzzwords because no-one will read them.

Instead of influencing your audience, you just fuel the opposing narrative.

If you talk and no-one trusts you, self-congratulatory vanity metrics don’t convince anyone of your imaginary success.

You’re not influencing anyone other than those on the payroll or who already like you anyway.

The arrogance of a taking a broadcast approach to organisational communications may seem obvious in 2016, yet decision makers continuously fail to recognise that without trust, no matter what they say (or do) speaking fluent corporate spin will only result in further damage to their reputation.

Building trust isn’t hard – but you genuinely have to want to.

The most important communications aspects your organisation needs to focus on are:

    1. Demonstrating ethical business practices
    1. Demonstrating social responsibility and accountability for issues and crises; and
  1. Demonstrating transparent and open business practices

With 59% of people sharing positive recommendations to friends and colleagues, and 41% of people taking the time to share positive online reviews – can you afford to leave trust and truth out of your strategic communications equation?

Need some more convincing?

    • 2002 was the year the Celebrity CEO went into decline. That’s 14 years ago.
    • The 3 top most-used sources of news and information are peer-influenced (translation: NOT your corporate statements) how is your search, tv and social media efforts looking?
    • Technical experts are the most trusted spokespersons closely followed by academic experts. If you’re clinging to a celebrity brand ambassadorship you’re the second least trusted source of information.
  • 8 out of 10 people think CEO’s should be personally visible in discussing societal issues
*Statistical insights sourced from the 2016 Annual Edelman Trust Barometer.