Like virtually everything else in business, successfully communicating in challenging situations isn’t easy. But just yesterday, we saw communicating with a high degree of difficulty done exceptionally well and exceptionally poorly, in two high-profile situations that couldn’t have been handled more differently.
In the morning, we saw the University of Minnesota’s Head Football Coach, Jerry Kill, retire suddenly because of health concerns. Rather than doing the easy thing like hiding behind a crafted statement, Kill faced the public with emotion and candor on full display. The media, and the public, looked favorably upon Kill, showing a very high level of sympathy, because he did the tough thing, but the right thing. He put honesty and authenticity first and left no doubt as to his intentions and rationale. Ideally, college athletics should be about setting an example and Kill set an example of how to handle a difficult communications moment, matching his reputation.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum was the Republican Presidential Debate, seen nationally on CNBC. Without question, sharing a stage with so many speakers, being asked point-blank questions and trying to maintain composure under those circumstances in front of a live audience and 14 million TV viewers is a challenge. Also, in politics, the Golden Rule is “don’t say anything that can be used against you.” But, what viewers saw was the vast majority of the candidates taking the easy way out by simply reciting memorized talking points and attacking the questioners. While those tactics score points with viewers in the short-term, they should not be emulated by anyone wanting to learn about best practices in communications. What “works” in politics doesn’t fly in the rest of the world.
If your objective is to be talked about, follow what the politicians did. If your objective is to be understood and respected, follow Jerry Kill and the University’s of Minnesota’s lead. When times get tough, be honest, be authentic and speak to, rather than pander to, your audience.