A number of our world leaders seem to be in the grip of communication problems. Here in Australia our Prime Minister has delivered Christmas cheer (or gloom) to members of her government by a rearrangement of the cabinet. Her expressed intention was, ‘to promote ministers more able to communicate the government’s message.’
A worthy aim; and that it rewarded her supporters and removed her detractors probably had nothing to do with it!
In the US, there have been a number of debates to select a Republican candidate for the Presidential Elections, and those that performed better were I believe unexpected.
And over in Europe the British Prime Minister seeking to shield the City of London’s Financial markets from legislation of a fiscal union that Britain does not belong to; finds his country on the end of a remarkable French diatribe from officials that should really know better.
Communication? Well of a sort I suppose – but if communication is to be used to explain policy, justify selection or to promote further discussion, I think all of them need to do very much better.
There seems to be a lot of myths running around about the use of communication in politics. Julia Gillard seems to think that if only her ministers could explain just why the Carbon Tax (for instance) is needed and how it will enhance the lives of middle Australia, then all the opposition will immediately fall on their swords exclaiming “how stupid we were! I see it clearly now” – that is a dream for children.
And in the US, successful debating conclusions while important, does not indicate the true ability of the debater to govern the country for the benefit of all; there needs to be far more important indicators present.
And the French should understand that vicious rhetoric never brought any country back to the negotiating table – it merely hardens the opposition and highlights cultural and historical differences which many thought should have been buried long ago.
Each one of these examples show where a wrong impression about the use of communication led to actions which failed completely to achieve the aim.
Perhaps we should refresh our memory of the truth about persuasive communication – whatever the reason, whatever the aim, the communication from the sender is always personal and it will be received equally personally. Nothing we say and nothing we hear is unfiltered – it is always filtered through who we are, what we know, how we were raised, our cultural background, our education, our experiences and our expectations. And those are incredible things to just ignore.
To change the minds of those diametrically opposed to your point of view needs far more than adequate communicators; it needs clear logical rationality; it needs accurate supporting facts, it needs a recognition of the interests of the receivers and it needs to recognise their concerns and it needs to address them; address them without bluff, bluster, insults or ridicule.
Think about the examples that I have used; in every case not one of them addressed the concerns of their opposition as being ‘rational or understandable’. In each case areas of concern were insultingly dismissed and those that aired them were abused as being at best ‘foolish and ignorant!’ and at worst ‘childish’. Such attacks will do absolutely nothing to bring these people to an understanding of your argument, or even to consider that you have an argument at all.
And with many governments seemingly taking a position diametrically opposed to the general public, I am beginning to sense a frustration with the democratic process itself. Indeed in Europe under the guise of reforming the economic situation legally elected heads of state have been forced to resign while unelected bureaucrats are appointed by faceless people behind closed doors.
So, perhaps another truth about communication needs to be understood; if you cannot convince the people of the rightness and purity of your actions perhaps it is because your actions are wrong and/or your integrity has been compromised.
Certainly Julia Gillard who promised ‘no carbon tax from my government,’ surely cannot wonder why the people now distrust her? And those politicians in Britain with their vehemently pro-EU stance cannot expect the population to trust them when they find out they are in receipt of pensions paid by that very same EU – it goes way beyond a ‘conflict of interest’ … some have evencalled it treachery!
The American presidential run-up always confuses me, so I shall nothing about it, except that the same considerations surely must apply.
If you are not perceived to be a credible source of information, that information will be compromised no matter how accurate, reasonable or logical.
However, even if you do communicate your ideas well, it does not mean that everyone accepts your point of view. Filtered as it is through their concerns, they could just as easily reject your carefully researched arguments. If you want to convince them of the righteousness of your intent, you need to understand it from their point of view, and not dismiss their concerns out of hand. If you ignore those concerns, abuse those that voice them – you will not be communicating persuasively, you will be bullying.
Communicating correctly and persuasively will not bring about immediate agreement – that is a fallacy. What it does is to air concerns and hopefully bring about understanding of both sides of the argument. There is no shame in disagreeing with others when you are in the majority!
But politicians should note that when your future is in the hands of the masses, it does not auger well for your continuity of employment to simply ignore them because you think you know better.
Whatever your political philosophy if you are elected to represent a section of society you are expected to do so; so you should be communicating to those in the ivory towers or in the glass bubbles of Canberra, Washington or London just what the population at large is concerned about, worrying over and what it is that they want done. It is not your job to lecture, abuse or dictate to them… or alas you may be looking for another job come election time.
And I am sorry; being an ex-politician is not really credible work experience in my book!!
Michele @ Trischel
PS – the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author