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Oh, Snap. Something Went Wrong

A few days ago, I was looking for something on the Web, landed on an error page and burst out laughing. The page read, “Oh, snap! Something went wrong.” Would you rather do business with this company or its competitor with the “Error 404, page not found” message? Thought so. That laugh-inducing error page is a perfect example of what I call person-ality. Too many organizational communications are missing exactly that — a person behind the communication about the brand or the organization. Some organizations insist on speaking with us as if there’s no body home at either end of the message, using passive voice, impenetrable jargon and insightful executives statements such as “We are pleased about this good news.” When I receive an email that speaks to “some of you out there,” I know that nobody in there knows who I am. I conduct a variety of communication skills workshops for executives. Most participants arrive wanting tips, tricks and techniques — formulaic rules for giving a speech, handling a question, navigating a crisis, narrating a PowerPoint presentation. Don’t get me wrong: the social sciences have given us many useful tips for all sorts of communication

But effective communication is authentic communication, in which the speaking or the writing is aimed at building a relationship of mutual understanding, respect and trust. Try accomplishing that while picturing your audience naked because you’re trying to “overcome” your fear of public speaking. But when a website says “Oh, snap!” to me, I know that someone has given some serious thought to our relationship. Authentic communication comes from a commitment to authentic relationships.

It’s not so difficult to figure out what that means. Just think about the relationship you have (or want to have) with your spouse, your kids, your parents. When that relationship of trust and respect is present, communication occurs. When it doesn’t, you’re probably acting like most corporations.

So here’s a free tip: lighten up. Speak and write from people to people. Try the first-person singular. Take a break from the superlative adjectives. Pitch the passive voice. Forget the executive quote. Put a name and face on it. Speak from you to me. Give it a try and, oh, snap, something will go right.

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