Musicians know how to listen. They understand that the music within and around them provides the inspiration they need to express themselves. They also understand the value of feedback.
Any rock n’ roll guitar player can tell you how to get good feedback. Just turn up the volume, point the guitar at your amp, and let it wail. It’s not always pleasant to hear, especially when it happens by accident. But in the hands of a master like Jimi Hendrix, feedback can unlock a whole new world of music.
Feedback in Public Relations
Feedback is also important in public relations. Too often, PR campaigns focus on communicating to someone. The problem is, when we forget that good communications also involve listening, it’s like a pilot flying on instruments. We are really communicating blindly.
These days it seems like no one is listening. Our communication is tribal. We use social media to communicate how we feel or what we are doing but only to people who think the same way we do. Disagreement is not tolerated. Anyone with a different opinion is dismissed, insulted, or taunted.
Corporate communication is too often tone-deaf. A hospital responds to concerns over patient safety by saying how proud it is of its record of patient safety. A university responds to accusations that it lacks diversity by insisting that it is committed to diversity. A police department responds to questions about systemic racism by denying there is a problem. An employer reacts instinctively to perceived threats by laying off staff and slashing budgets, leading to a loss of trust from stakeholders.
When an organization’s reputation is questioned, it is tempting to issue a statement to the media rather than agreeing to be interviewed. There is certainly less risk with a statement but it’s only a temporary solution. It might contain the spread but it won’t put out the fire. The problem is that communication is a two-way process, not one-way. Glen Broom, a co-author of Effective Public Relations, compares it to what a squid does when it senses danger. It squirts ink. Squirting ink is tactical, not strategic. It means we are focused on getting some ink when we should be getting an inkling instead.
Seek Intentional Feedback
When everything is polarized every message is received with skepticism. By seeking feedback, you may learn that your stakeholders don’t trust you. Maybe your employees are worried about how they can return to work if they can’t afford child care. Maybe they just need to know how you will keep them safe when the office reopens. Maybe your patients don’t think your hospital is really worried about their health or your nurses wonder if you are being truthful about being prepared for the next outbreak. If your stakeholders are skeptical about your motives, maybe it’s time to ask if you are communicating the right messages.
Navigating Communication Today
We are living through the worst pandemic in 100 years. We have COVID fatigue with no end in sight. The economy is devastated, business is at a standstill and we wonder how our democracy can endure such a highly polarized election. It’s easy to get stressed out by day-to-day worries and not take the time to think strategically. Your business goals should always guide your communication tactics, not the other way around. When business is slow, take advantage of the downtime to enjoy the silence. You may be surprised by what you hear.
Great musicians pay attention to what the musicians around them are saying musically. It’s the same with good communicators. We all have communications breakdowns. The trick is to take a deep breath and listen.