Strange isn’t it, that the one thing that is so vital to business is also something at which mankind is singularly inept. And the PR industry, for one, pays a heavy price with misunderstood communications resulting in misquoting and all sorts of people getting the wrong end of all sorts of sticks.
Yes, I know I have written about this before. Often. And I will probably keep doing so ad nauseam until a flicker of light appears at the end of my marketing tunnel.
Communications is critical in business as it is in politics, economics and society at large. So, for PR people particularly, it is to always a good idea to start with the premise that people are the worst of God’s creatures when it comes to communicating.
Assuming that clients, editors, reporters, radio presenters, events organisers and colleagues are intrinsically good communicators is asking for trouble.
Even amoeba communicates better than people. Even nose hairs communicate better than their owners. Let’s face it, when they tell your brain to sneeze, you sneeze – nose hairs never come back with; “sorry, what was that, wheeze did you say?”
Even animals are better at it than people. You’ll never find an impala being eaten by a leopard, hurling abuse at a sentry baboon with; “Thanks for nothin’ you big ape…we thought you said a shepherd was coming…”
As a demonstration of how bad human beings are at grasping what other human beings are trying to tell them, communications experts often use a little game called ‘the broken telephone’ to prove to non-believers how a simple sentence can become twisted completely out of context when relayed from one person to another.
Quite simply, you get a dozen or so people to sit in a circle. They can be Nobel laureates, MBA graduates, rocket scientists, idiots or politicians – it will make no difference whatsoever to the outcome.
You whisper a simple phase into the ear of one of them and he in turn whispers the message to his neighbour and so on. The only rule is that you’re not allowed to repeat the message.
It is very rare that by the time it has passed through those dozen people, the message at the end is the same as the original. In fact, it is almost an impossible.
A simple phase like, “My son is an MBA student” will end up as “My mother says she’s pregnant.”
It is for this very reason that airline pilots and marine radio operators always repeat everything. They don’t just do it because it sounds gung-ho in the movies; they do it because history has shown that unless every verbal communication is repeated aeroplanes tend to land on top of each other and ships bump into icebergs.
Perhaps if this procedure became law in business and politics an enormous amount of pain and suffering could be avoided.
But, not only has this human deficiency caused considerable trauma in commerce, economics and politics, it has also destroyed many a private life.
The fairy tale marriage of the century was ruined because of bad communication. As the handsome prince popped out of the palace to pluck a granadilla or two from the royal greenhouse, he called to his beautiful wife to tell her where he was going. What he didn’t hear was her reply, ‘You’re going to do what to Camilla?”
When the most economically successful American president ever was fighting for his political life it was quite literally because he had, in a sense, been cuckolded by communication.
I know there has been many a joke about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky but this is no joke, it is the truth. I got it yonks ago from communications expert and maestro MC, Michael Jackson, who has never been known to fib about anything other than his weight.
Apparently Bill and Hillary were hosting a dinner at the White House attended by a phalanx of foreign dignitaries, including at least one head of state, and a small armada of ambassadors.
The soup was not only cold but also reminiscent of the sewers of Barbados. The pasta was undercooked and the main course had the daylights boiled out of it. A culinary disaster to say the least.
Later that night, as they were getting ready for bed, Hillary gave poor old Bill a tongue-lashing second to none. She had never been so embarrassed in her life. She couldn’t sleep until something had been done about it.
“Get hold of someone,” she told her husband, “get hold of anyone right now and find out who was responsible for this debacle.”
Bill got out of bed, put on his dressing gown, looked up “debacle” in his pocket dictionary, went down to the Oval office and dialed the duty office.
It just happened to be Monica Lewinsky’s turn for night duty.
“Now listen Monica, ” he said, “I’ve got something very important for you to do right away, without delay.
“I want you to sack my cook…”
Follow Chris Moerdyk on Twitter @chrismoerdyk
IMAGE: Bill Clinton / Wikimedia Creative Commons