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Why Communicators Don’t Get No Respect

Posted by on Tuesday, September 18, 2012 - with one comment

Let me take a wild guess: a certain amount of your interactions with colleagues inside your organization leaves you quietly banging your head on your desk. We may as well laugh about this aspect of our jobs when we can.

Take a look at these Twitter-sourced suggestions for “Sh*t Communicators Say”, and think about how many you utter in the course of an average week:

  • How many people need to approve this?
  • This can be good, fast or cheap; pick two.
  • Can I see the marketing plan before writing the copy? You don’t have one?
  • Sorry, but you can’t say something is “very unique”.
  • Fancy language does not make you sound intelligent.
  • Please let me worry about the semicolons.
  • Is version 18 of this release final, or is there a version 19?
  • I know you don’t care to see it before it goes to the printer, but I’m sending it to you anyway.
  • You need it when?
  • Sorry, we can’t get you one of those “Facetwit things.”

It’s not possible to completely eliminate all of these eye-rolling moments from your job. But something’s amiss if looking at this list makes you throw your hands up in despair wondering  “Is this all there is?”

Here’s some reassurance: that’s not all there is—or can be—to your job. By embracing a vision of yourself as a strategic communicator, and by shaping your behaviour and internal client relationships accordingly, you can cut down on the amount of day-to-day frustration and greatly boost the satisfaction and rewards of your career. It’s within your power to create the conditions for excellent performance and productive relationships.

The starting point for transforming your career as a strategic communicator is to recognize that you’re probably not unique in the challenges you’re facing. In my experience, communicators from various backgrounds and sectors share an almost universal struggle to define the value they bring to organizations, and then communicate that value in a way that resonates with decision-making executives and gains the respect of internal clients. There are three structural dimensions to the challenge:

First, communications is often seen at best as overhead; and at worst, it’s a ‘nice to have’ function that’s often one of the first things on the chopping block when budgets get tight. The result is the dreaded ‘death of a thousand cuts’. A slow, painful erosion of funding and staffing renders the communications function so under-resourced that a self-fulfilling prophecy ensues: ‘the communications function hasn’t done much for me lately’, says the organization—but how could it under such conditions?

Second, there’s a pervasive under-recognition of the value that communications brings in day-to-day operations, relative to other functional groups. In the classic example, a subject matter expert or lawyer scribbles comments on a draft news release or announcement, and the red ink is seen as the word of the gospel—while a communications director’s notes are seen as subjective editorial comments and treated lightly, as a sort of “take it or leave it” suggestion by decision-makers.

Third, there’s what I call the communications profession’s classic lament: “Why can’t we gain access to the senior management table?” or “How can we get the C-suite to listen?” Flyers and seminars on “Getting to the senior executive table” are everywhere – and their proliferation is bad news for our profession. Let’s face it, if communicators were seen as mission-critical, highly valued advisors, senior executives would be coming to us, and we wouldn’t be worried about having to beat down the door to the senior management table.

The only real answer to these problems is to make yourself into a communicator who makes such high-value strategic contributions to your organizations—and in such effective ways—that your colleagues and executives will sit up and take notice. This starts with a deliberate approach to the way in which you treat your work, and gets translated into distinctive patterns of interaction with others in your organization.

Check out www.resultsmap.com for tips, tools and resources that will help you do just that.


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