I spend a lot of time considering what I will say, I speak from inspiration most often, and I get inspired easily and sporadically. This is probably one of the most difficult personality combinations to manage when it comes to having a conversation so on behalf of everyone like me, I’m just going to start off with a big sorry to you!
The problem with this is that while you’re talking to me, you’ve reminded me of the perfect story that you just have to hear. And sometimes, while you’re talking, I’m considering this great new idea that will fix everything you see wrong. Boy oh boy, are YOU going to be sooooooo glad you started talking to me because now I have all kinds of great things to say!
Well, at least that’s what I use to do. And if I’m being honest, what I still struggle with. Maybe you do too. If that’s the case, here’s a few helpful reminders on how communicate, instead of just talk.
Wait your turn.
Does that seem simple? Good. It’s supposed to be. Anytime I speak with someone and they are talking at about 100 miles a minute, I purposefully limit my input. Some people are exaggerated story tellers, and that gives the rest of us a lot of time to tune out. Because they like providing detail, they’re accustomed to being interrupted, so they’re flying through their thoughts to make sure they get it all out before you or I try to intercede.
Not to mention that every time I am interrupted, the first thing I realize is that whomever is interrupting me wasn’t listening at all, but rather planning their response before I can even lay out the problem. If that annoys you half as much as it does me then you’ll agree how important it is to wait your turn.
Allow space for silence.
If you’re not thinking about your own responses the entire time someone is speaking to you, then there’s inevitably going to be space for silence. Sometimes that space is a moment, sometimes it’s a little longer. Don’t be uncomfortable with pauses, not every break needs to be filled.
In many cases, the less you speak, the more people listen. If I save my voice for things that are truly important, I’m taken more seriously and people tend to pay attention when I have input. (Of course this works best if you have something constructive to add, but that’s a different post…)
Create silence on purpose.
In the same regard, the less you speak, the more you will hear. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been confused, speechless, or annoyed and allowed a little silence to do my dirty work. When you don’t respond in places people are expecting, they’ll keep talking. Do it again, they’ll keep talking.
You’ll be amazed at what you will uncover. It’s also a fun little trick for those more difficult folks in your life…sometimes your lack of response let’s people run through an entire gamut of emotions and it’s really something quite fascinating to see. It’s almost like watching someone have your argument for you. I highly recommend it.
Let some ideas go.
This is mostly helpful if you’re like me. You may have the most incredible story, example, motto, or meme to share. If it’s not your turn to contribute to the discussion, let it go. Not only in waiting your turn, but in considering abandoning your example altogether.
Maybe it’s important enough to come back to, but often times it’s perfect in that moment and when that moment passes and the discussion progresses, your inability to move forward past that one “great thing” will leave you wallowing in a moment of discussion that’s completely over, and you’ll have missed most things since. Let it go so you can actively hear what someone is telling you and know that there will be plenty more perfect interjections to go around.
Remember, your chance to shine isn’t in the moments you have the best zinger or illustration; they’re in the moments your relevant thoughts are heard.
I can’t apologize for my pitiful puns. Or won’t…maybe it’s won’t?
This month I’ll be joining other preparedness-minded moms in discussing some of the most important topics America’s PrepareAthon has to share. While I was preparing my little section of slides (chatting about communication, surprise surprise!) I really had to take a minute to wonder, what do other moms need to hear that makes them truly take a step in preparing their family? Better yet, how can those steps be as feasible as possible?
If you work in preparedness and connect to the community at any point, I’m sure you’ve wondered this yourself. Let me share with folks what doesn’t work. Moms, dads, family members, feel free to chime in in the comments section.
This Doesn’t Work
- Bestowing ALL of the information you know upon others
- Anything where you mention a directive, presidential and otherwise
- 10,000-foot-tall fear tactics
- Information that requires training to understand
These things don’t work because they don’t matter to anyone outside of the field. If you’re not in the preparedness business, all you need to know is what will keep you and your family safe, and the time and financial cost of it. Nobody disagrees they’d like to be prepared during an emergency or disaster, but if we’re all going to live like “that will never happen here”, we have to know that preparing for it is worth the effort.
This Does Work
- Reasons that what you’re saying is important
- Free things
- Easy things
- Plans that also improve daily life
- Simple, relatable language
- Realistic examples
- Understanding who you’re talking to
Some of us enjoy a family game night, movie night, standing dinner, Sunday drive. My family and I enjoy lots of those things, but we also enjoy family preparedness. I know, it sounds like I made that up just so you’d listen to my blog and trust my opinion. But hearing my kids process what they think is safe and smart, giving me their feedback on where our family meeting spot should be if we have a house fire, taking a few moments in the car during a bad storm to talk about sheltering, or teaching them a song that helps them remember my phone number – these are things that bring us really close together. I continue to be amazed by the way they see the world and in turn, I don’t fear their safety the way I would if I sent them out in to it completely unprepared.
So fellow emergency management folks, let’s communicate with the community the way they need to hear it, not the way we want to say it.
Fellow moms (and family members, et al), bare with us while we share something that is desperately important to us, to help us all reach our goal of keeping our families safe. After all, it takes a village…
If you’ll be joining me on this webinar, I’ll have 7-10 minutes of solid reasons why you need a communications plan, how to create one and how to make it successful. Don’t wait! Register for the webinar!
Ebola. Are you tired of hearing about it yet? Not that it isn’t a notable virus that deserves our attention and our preparations, but as emergency managers, our job right now is not to eliminate the threat. Our job right now has very little to do with the actual virus itself. Allow me to make a case for you.
This blog just got serious…
Ebola is a virus that is spread through contact of the bodily fluids of an infected person. It’s not in the air and to get it, you’d have to have a direct exposure that allowed for entry into your own body. Once you’ve got it, yeah, that’s a problem. But in many places, especially the US, actually catching the disease? That is not going to be easy.
Lots of viruses are spread this way and our hospital systems are not only prepared, trained and ready for what’s already here, they’re prepared for what’s coming. Personal protective equipment exists to build a barrier between our healthcare workers and those who require their services. Processes and procedures have been in place to handle the worst of the worst for years on years. So, why then all the fuss, and what are emergency managers actually supposed to be doing with this?
We already know that people fear what they don’t know, and that there are so many unanswered questions about the disease itself is the worst kind of unknown. Where does it originate? Can it mutate? Why isn’t there a cure? I get it – I find these questions intriguing myself!
Right now, however, our job isn’t to answer these questions. Our job lies in the public panic. I would estimate that is roughly 85% of our responsibility since the beginning of disease spread. Of course there is training, drills, exercises and inter-agency communication to be done, but the major focus simply must be on communicating clearly with the public. Most essentially on a local level. Why? Because the public has a disconnect in personal trust on a federal level.
And why shouldn’t they? They don’t “know” federal departments. Federal agencies aren’t first responders, and they’re more often than not separated from the local message and response. They have a huge task before them (i.e answering those questions above that we aren’t challenged to solve), but they won’t be able to truly touch public panic and public perception.
As emergency managers, it isn’t our job to answer the questions of the specialty agencies we support. What we need to focus on is developing a consistent, calming, accurate message from our partner agencies to our community members, because their perceptions and their unnecessary panic is the emergency right now.
Those plans you’ve worked so diligently on? People need to know they exist. Those exercises you participate in? People need to know that they happened. We can’t answer the questions that make people so afraid, but we can keep fear from turning into panic by showing all of the ways we have always been prepared and we will continue to be prepared. Our community members need to hear from us that we have a plan, that they can trust we know what we’re doing. And we need to be trusted enough to explain how these scary things work, and what we’ll do about it.
It won’t be enough to go out and tell everyone they have nothing to worry about. Let’s face it, that message ain’t gonna cut it! It’s okay to allow our community members to feel something. But when was the last time a scare tactic changed anything about anyone’s actual preparedness status? Go ahead, I’ll give you some time to think about it…
Scare tactics don’t work. We need to communicate all of this, take away the element of panic, and turn relevant concern into beneficial action.
Explaining what we do, having a consistent presence, facilitating that message and then showing people that just as we have prepared ourselves for the worst of the worst, so too can they prepare, is where the success is. Our plans don’t fall to the wayside because they’re flexible enough to fit the different disasters we face. Our plans, kits and equipment are adaptable. Anyone’s can be, if they know where to start.
Here’s the catch…it really only works if your community has faith in your message.
Do you exist outside of the walls of your office? Does your agency know you, does your community know you? Are you equipped to lead the message our public needs to hear, or will you be out of touch? And, for those of you who dread the role of the public information officer, that doesn’t mean being the man or woman on camera. That means being a part of the development of the message and being a trusted source people can turn to in order to successfully receive it.
What have you done to create a trustworthy atmosphere in your community in advance of times like these where our success relies so heavily on our ability to share critical information? Are you prepared for what happens if the community doesn’t hear us and panic does ensue?
Right now is the right time to get ahead of your message, and if you already are, it’s a great time to tell someone else how you’re nailing it.
Go ahead. I’ll wait.