Emotional detachment makes people cruel. It’s easy to turn people into caricatures when you don’t really know or care about them.
Take Britney Spears. She’s been lampooned by the tabloids, chased down by the paparazzi, and had fingers wagged at her by every so-called child care expert who could find their way in front of a television camera. To the media, it’s a game — one that earns them subscribers, ratings, and money.
But Spears is a real person. And after she gave an honest, emotional interview stating her case to Matt Lauer a couple of years ago, viewers voted 80-20 in her support — and against the media — in an MSNBC poll. Many believe it was the first step to her current comeback.
It’s About Empathy
Generating empathy is the reason I recommend face-to-face communication first to my clients. Before conference calls, before e-mail, before press releases, before internal memos, before Skype, before Twitter, before blogging, before VNRs — if face-to-face is possible, it’s nearly always the best option.
Here’s an example from the world of internal communication:
When a company is announcing a layoff and asks me to develop a plan to communicate it, the first question I always ask is, “Will the CEO do it in person?”
If the company is large with multiple locations, I want the CEO to make the announcement at headquarters and the top officials in the field to break the news at those offices simultaneously. I want those officials to stand up and explain the reasons for the layoff, and to answer every last question from the people in the room. I want those officials to show that they care, and I want the people in the audience to see that there is someone at the front of the room willing to stand there and take the heat.
In my years as a corporate communications executive, I’ve been fortunate to work with two CEOs, Robert Decherd at Belo Corp. and Jack Frazee at PageNet, who believed in and practiced the art of face-to-face communication. But far too many executives try it avoid it — sometimes at all costs.
Memos, press releases and e-mails are good for providing supporting information. Used alone, however, they can’t bridge the gap between a corporation’s executives and its rank-and-file. If a company only communicates through press releases, employees will start to view its executives as the public views celebrities — with distance, detachment and, ultimately, ridicule.
The same is true for your communications with investors, the media and other audiences. So don’t be lazy; manage by talking around.
[This post is a Media Orchard classic.]