We live in very unkind times. So let’s not add to it. How about we are a little bit kinder about our trickier customers.
by Jude Tipper
“Just work your magic”, I recently told my hairdresser. It’s what I usually say, and he always does. I certainly don’t except him to send me to be shampooed and go into the back room to slag me off.
Equally, I took cuttings from magazines and some rough sketches to my wedding florist. I would’ve been shocked to see her roll her eyes at my attempts to show what I was looking for.
This is what’s been irking me lately: as professional communicators we too often seem to think it’s ok to take the mick and moan about the people we are here to serve…
The physios who sent a draft poster with way too much text who’d had a stab at laying it out for you.
The social workers who asked you to make their campaign video go viral, like that Lad Bible one.
The project manager who’d done a comms plan, you just need to add a bit of sparkle
The mental health crisis team who asked you to “do a comms”, an all-user email, thanks.
The LGBT+ group who drafted a press release for you put in the local paper, please.
Their attempts are well-meaning. And to them, we do indeed do magic. We have skills, training and experience in something they can’t do. Their inability to do comms keeps us in jobs. They let us add value and prove our worth. Why then do we criticise and mock the way our colleagues ask us for help or present their ideas?
I’m not saying there isn’t a place for sounding off with our peers. The support you can get from the comms community is astounding and, on certain days, it’s very much needed. But there’s a vast difference in reaching out for a sense-check, kind words, or advice and just outright laughing at someone’s request.
And this isn’t just about kindness and professionalism. Never before has it been more important to demonstrate the worth of public sector communicators.
I’d argue that every time we mock someone for their comms attempts we’re implying they ought to know better. They ought to be able to do it without us. Which leaves us where exactly? Handing over the proverbial wands and passing the P45s around.
There are, of course, plenty of occasions when people think they can do your job just as well as you can - if not better. This post isn’t intended to tackle that, we have a whole toolkit for that type of tricky customer. I just wanted to question why we sometimes ridicule well-intentioned efforts of our frontline colleagues.
So instead, when you’re presented with a draft - that makes your eyes bleed and your souls weep - treat it as an invaluable opportunity to add value. Begin by asking what they’re trying to achieve and what they know about their audience. Don’t be too precious that they’ve stretched the logo, you can resize it and nobody dies. And ignore the dire clip and word art, for now. Educate your client (because that’s what they are, wherever you work). Show them what your magic looks like and teach what you need from them to do your very best tricks.
And always, always, look for the golden thread. What links you to the frontline? What can you do in that situation that could ultimately save, change or improve lives? Spend time looking for how to add strategic value, rather than wasting time on unkind mockery.
Sure, vent with peers when you need to - we all need to - but perhaps think twice when you share with your team or post on a forum that someone’s been an idiot today because they couldn’t do your job. Could you do theirs? Have empathy and call it out when a comms colleague doesn’t.
At the end of another cracking cut, I asked my hairdresser if he minds me asking him to work his magic.
His response? “Of course not. You value - and pay for - my skills and, most importantly, you trust me. There’s no greater compliment.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Jude Tipper is head of marketing, communications and engagement at South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and soon to be strategic comms lead at NHS Digital. You can connect with her on Twitter at @JudeTipper
Image via Snapshots of the Past