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Cautiously Optimistic

Social media for better communication and a better life

Posts Tagged ‘Lifehacker

For Good Communication, Less is More

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One of the best tips I ever got while working in radio journalism was to never forget the phrase “less is more.” After researching a story, interviewing an expert on the topic, editing the audio clips, and beginning to write, I felt a bit like an expert myself. That made it tough to choose which of my babies to kill. Figuratively, of course, as I worked to remove fifty percent of the excellent words I had just written, while keeping the central idea of the story. It’s not easy.

Turns out I was doing it backwards. This great article from Erika Andersen of Forbes via Lifehacker boils down the “less is more” concept to three central rules of clear communication:

  1. Listen. It’s the first and most important part of communicating. If you don’t know what the other person is saying or thinking, how can you effectively connect with them? You can’t.
  2. Cut to the chase. You absolutely must get to the point quickly and simply, or your audience will wander away. Every story should have a beginning and an end, so just get from A to Z without wasting a bunch of time on L-M-N-O-P.
  3. Read the room. Are the people you are speaking to yawning and checking their e-mails? Time to stop talking. Saying more words likely won’t make it better.

These rules may be hard to follow, but the results will be worth the effort.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

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Written by Charles Primm

April 30, 2012 at 5:38 pm

Social Media: Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

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Let's Call the Whole Thing OffThe other day I was catching up on my reading about social media and communication, and I started thinking about the old song “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” In particular, I was remembering the line “you say EE-ther, I say EYE-ther.”

The song came to mind because social media is being presented as the source of a) “persuasion,” a positive outcome that justifies the billions of advertising dollars being spent with Google, Facebook, Twitter and other networks, and b) “manipulation,” a negative outcome increasingly pursued by repressive regimes such as those in Syria and Iran.

Persuasion, as I’ve written about before, is one of the tools of the trade for public relations practitioners. When you get down to it, all of us are persuaders, no matter what line of work we are in. We all have wants and needs, and we communicate with others in order to get what we want. From tweeting your need for a ride to class, to posting a YouTube video encouraging your friends to vote for your candidate, to seeing your agency’s online advertising campaign delivering increased revenues to your client’s business, we all use social media to persuade others to agree with us and/or do what we want them to do.

Manipulation, on the other hand, is a bad thing. It’s not something that “we” do; it’s an evil thing that “they,” the others, do. Author Anne P. Mintz’s new book, “Web of Deceit: Misinformation and Manipulation in the Age of Social Media,” looks at how manipulative individuals and organizations use social media to spread misinformation and propaganda on a scale and at a speed not seen before.

Jillian C. York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes in this Al Jazeera article about how Syria and Iran twist the features of social networks such as Facebook in order to identify and eliminate anti-government activists.

You say “manipulation,” and I say “persuasion.” So how do we call the whole thing off?

This great article by Adam Dachis of the Lifehacker blog on how to avoid brainwashing has some suggestions:

  • Identify the manipulative message you’ve received.
  • Find an opposing message, one that is as unbiased as possible.
  • Compare the different messages and see how you feel.

I think the third suggestion is the most important: “see how you feel.” We are smarter than we think we are. We all have the ability to think with our feelings as well as with our intellects, and so we should honor what our hearts and our minds are telling us.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

February 26, 2012 at 2:24 pm

A Good Way to Break Bad News

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Being a better communicator means sometimes having to break bad news, in a sensitive but direct way.

Public relations practitioners sometimes find themselves in no-win situations, explaining or justifying their organization in the face of criticism from external audiences and their own internal stakeholders.

We sometimes find ourselves in no-win situations in our personal lives as well, when we must share something that we really, really wish we didn’t have to. It reminds me of the title of the Harlan Ellison short-story collection “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” when we discover that we are simultaneously torn between having to say something and being unwilling or unable to say it.

Writer Adam Dachis of the Lifehacker blog recently posted some good advice on how to break out of that “can’t say it/must say it” trap. It sounds simple, but is quite powerful: instead of beating around the bush, you must phrase the bad news in as simple a message as possible, and then go ahead and deliver the message.

Putting things off or minimizing the impact of your words will not make a situation better. It’s like only partially removing a splinter from your finger. It may not hurt as much, but the pain is still there.

To that, I would add the thought that you must be prepared for the consequences of the bad news you have just shared. You can choose what to tell someone, but you cannot choose how they react to it. Only they get to decide how they want to react to it. It’s like un-ringing a bell: you can’t do it. Once you have said something, it’s out of your control.

It’s the same way with social media, only faster. If you give a person bad news in a direct, face-to-face conversation, it may not go much farther than that. But if you post bad news to your social media sites, it’s instantly shared with everyone you know, and archived for all time in The Great Internet Cloud.

That loss of control is one reason why I don’t think social media are an appropriate place for sharing bad news. More than one person I know has accidently informed all of their Facebook friends of a breakup by allowing their change of relationship status to be posted to their news feed.

So even if it is not possible to avoid being the bearer of bad tidings, there certainly are better ways to do it.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

February 2, 2012 at 6:29 pm