Communicators rule

Communicators rule but everyone should be reminded of Plato: “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.” Sad to say, the latter drives social media these days.


Note: This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on December 15, 2020.


Clearly, leaders, whether in the public or private sector, know by now that communication is vital in a pandemic. Whether it is for an information drive, education, closing sales, online or traditional media, influencing decisions, advocating a position and the like. These days though, nonverbal communication is leading the way what with the minimum health protocol on wearing face masks and face shields, maintaining physical distance and washing hands. The nonverbal signals are aplenty: tone of voice, eye contact, facial expressions, body language and expressions that define our communications today. Nonverbal communication encompasses space and touch, which has been redefined because we cannot get close to someone or allow them to get close. A culture of embracing, kissing and holding are now looked unkindly upon because of the danger of Covid-19 transmission.

The use of language to stand in for the courtesy we would otherwise show nonverbally is being built anew as a set of norms as we adjust going into the different phases of the pandemic. Communication is “process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs or behavior” or “information communicated, information transmitted or conveyed.” In the traditional sense, communication is a process of sending and decoding information from sender to receiver. As we are being pushed to an existence online, we need to rediscover creativity in order to communicate with people in the same space rather than be pinned in our own devices.

Part of communications is crisis and risk. Crisis and risk communication are two different means of communication. “Crisis communication refers to the technologies, systems and protocols that enable an organization to effectively communicate during a major threat to its business or reputation. Organizations must be prepared for a wide range of potential crises, including extreme weather, crime, cyberattacks, product recalls, corporate malfeasance, reputation crises and PR (public-relations) incidents. Preparing ahead of time for a crisis ensures that relevant personnel can quickly and effectively communicate with each other during moments of threat, sharing information that allows the organization to quickly rectify the situation; protect customers, employees and assets; and ensure business continuity.

Risk communication is “the process of communicating potential losses and how they may be prevented. This includes warnings, disclosures and two-way communication, aimed at managing risk.” The main purpose of communicating risks is “to inform people about the potential hazards, related to a particular condition or activity. These hazards may be directly linked to a person, community or property.” The communicator should engage all of them and respond to questions and concerns. Communicators apply practical and scientific principles to interact with both parties effectively, especially during controversial situations.

Conversations are now into discussions on co-working spaces, work from home or work from anywhere; brand connection to sustain loyalty; and the concept of workation or taking office on the road, relying heavily on all-around tech support, gyms, spas as extra benefits to employees. And traveling these days are all about preplanning things. In the travel and tourism industry, there is a lot of sharing in terms of plans, programs, apps and tech because travel post-pandemic would lead to less contact, to talking to machines, to machines reading passports, etc.

When the pandemic started, the government had a hard time adjusting to clear communication protocols. These guidelines are: build trust, have one set of messages, counter myths and misinformation, promote action and be emphatic. In the end KISS is the short mnemonic: Keep it short and simple. The only way to deal with misinformation and disinformation is to be very clear on an issue.

The next challenge is now on the vaccine, and more and more, there is a need for an information campaign on the matter. With the race to roll out vaccines, concerns are rising about vaccines and immunization protocols by the general public and in the media. The concerns are serious but often misplaced. Some of these factors that may trigger public concerns are: unsafe injections, changing regulations, vaccine campaigns, anti-immunization lobbing, inadequate monitoring, mishandling of rumors and evolution of programs. The basic messaging has to be very clear in framing before one goes to a complex compound briefing on the pros and cons of inoculation.

In the end, communication has always been a challenge when it comes to the public sector because the discipline in framing and priming as well as the consistency in following a clear-cut plan have always been badly executed. Key performance indicators are not taken into consideration unlike in the private sector where every strategy is tied up with the bottom lines. So, many programs that are quite good are not well-documented in order to tie up achievements of what has the government done. Worse, the communication arc, government-wide, is not clearly set.

“Communication is the root of all events, daily interaction, social affairs and anything that requires the purpose of human dealings. We have technology to enhance the idea of communication by making it simpler, faster, effective and convenient no matter where you are on the globe and in whatever situation decision makers are. We do verbal, nonverbal; formal and informal communications. In the end, a problem is solved well if communicated [effortlessly].”

Communicators rule but everyone should be reminded of Plato: “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.” Sad to say, the latter drives social media these days.

About the Author
Malou Tiqiua is the Founder/General Manager of PUBLiCUS Asia Inc. A noted political management expert in the Philippines and Asia, she brings over 20 years of professional experience in public, private and the academe combined. Author of the comprehensive book on electoral campaigns in the Philippines, "Campaign Politics", Malou is a graduate of the University of the Philippines with a Political Science degree and a Master of Public Administration. She completed her second master's degree (MA in Political Management) from the Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University.
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