From the Comms Cupboard

'Must have excellent communication skills ... '

'Must have excellent communication skills ... '
Professional comms teams aren't the only ones with the ability to communicate well. John and Shaun talk about what makes an effective business.

It turns out communication is something we can all improve, especially if we're members of different teams and departments, or we're ducks and moorhens. (Take a listen to see what we mean.)

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Episode transcript

John: Hello. Welcome back.

Shaun: Welcome back to the cupboard. Or a country walk, whichever way you want to look at it.

John: Let's paint a picture for you a little bit. There are birds tweeting, there are ducks in the pond, there are tractors in the field.

Shaun: You see, there’s a duck over there and a moorhen, and there's a cat watching them. You know I don't like cats. They're taking out British wildlife willy-nilly basically. Are we allowed to say willy-nilly? Is that like nitty-gritty?

John: Possibly.

Shaun: Possibly. The things you can't say now. One day there will be a dictionary of banned words.

John: There probably already is! 🙈

Shaun: What I'm getting at here is there are different departments in that pond that are not necessarily communicating with one another about the imminent threat.

John: Or interested in what the others are ...

Shaun: Indeed. The moorhen should be talking to the duck 🦆 and the duck should be talking to the moorhen: “There's a thing over there watching us. It's stalking its way through the reeds right now.” But they're not. They've decided they don't need their ‘pondtranet’.

John: Pondtranet?

Shaun: I'm going too far with the analogy here but you can see what I'm getting at.

John: It's working, it's working.

Shaun: Thank you.

John: So, what role can communications do when they're helping these people (or ducks and moorhens) to talk to each other?

Shaun: Yeah ☺️

John: Why is it important that they do?

Shaun: Well, they will be killed basically!

John: I know the moorhens will, but what about in an office environment?

Shaun: You can break down productivity, you can break down business efficiency – all manner of things can go wrong when you don't communicate. But that's the whole point of this podcast – it's why we do this. We're not always about internal comms – we're about how you communicate better as a business. And I think this is one of those things where traditionally, I would say from experience, even in small businesses, departments don't talk to one another. I think there's reasons for that outside of just not getting on. I think there's reasons around human nature: you want to keep your stuff to yourself.

John: You mean your team?

Shaun: Yeah, this is the sales team and we don't talk to marketing. It's not necessarily that they have any animosity against them – it's a protectionist kind of thing about your clique or your department.

John: Do you think there is also a lack of interest in what others do?

Shaun: Oh definitely.

John: The poor finance people: no one wants to hear about their spreadsheets and databases.

Shaun: We just want to get paid! 💰

John: We just want to make sure we get paid on time. This is where good communications come in. Working with partners in these areas, certainly in internal comms but also external – because those messages may need to go outside of the business – you're constantly looking for these stories that do go out, that show off your business. You do promote them. But it's not always easy to get that story, is it?

Shaun: And we're talking about successes and things like that?

John: Yes.

Shaun: People who have completed a project or have done really well.

John: Yeah, you've got a new customer and you want to promote that and bring in more customers. This is a great deal that we've just done. That's hard to pull out. I know in the work that you do that this is a real challenge. It's something you spend a lot of time doing, isn't it?

Shaun: I write a lot of case studies for businesses, and it's surprising to find how little a business knows about the project that was a success.

John: Exactly.

Shaun: I've even spoken to someone within a company who didn't know that that was the client; they didn't know that they had that client. Yet, it had been done and dusted. This was a big business, about 600 people, but you still should know. Perhaps – well, definitely – there's a lack of communication between departments. It shouldn't fall to a professional communicator to bridge that gap.

John: No. But I think there's a difference between communication and managing your stakeholders. Make sure people know who needs to know what. So, there's a big difference between that. People should talk to each other because that's how businesses run and work better. That's different from a corporate communications type of thing. I think where communicators can come in is they can work with individuals from departments – you can work with finance to help them understand the audiences that they have, the messaging they need to get out, and equip them to do it. Quite often, and to be quite frank, there is usually just one comms person in a business and they don't have time to write and do everything. So, they need to up-skill people to do it, or at least get a plan that they can follow. Get them up to a level of competency, where you can just check something as it gets sent out, as opposed to it being you doing everything for them.

Shaun: And encouraging that environment of sharing, where we are all in this for the same thing.

John: Yeah, collaboration.

Shaun: It's not just a 9-to-5, where you're a salesman. It's everything, isn't it?

John: Yeah. We've talked a lot about this before, where it comes down to culture, your values and your behaviours, and what’s expected of people when they work for you. Probably nine times out of 10, communication is ... Being a good communicator is one of the behaviours you're meant to have.

Shaun: If we go back to our duck and moorhen again, you could easily make the mistake of saying it's just that they don't speak the same language or they don't have the skills. Like you just said, they don't have the skills to communicate, because one speaks in ‘moorhen-ese’ and the other one speaks in quack. But what if the duck decides: “I can speak moorhen. I just choose not to. I’ll ignore him. I'm not that keen. I like my duck environment and I'm going to keep myself to myself.” I think that happens in business too.

John: Absolutely. And I suppose, like a lot of people at the moment, they may also just be on mute! 🤫

Shaun: I do that actually. You know, when you're on that round-robin email and people are including you for no reason. I love that mute button. If someone says I've missed something, I’ll apologise ...

John: I don't think I go a day – because you know I'm on a lot of Teams calls on a day-to-day basis – there's not a day that goes by when someone doesn't try to speak on mute.

Shaun: Oh, you're talking about muting live conversations.

John: Yeah, absolutely! Not intentionally!

Shaun: Ahh, I'm talking about when you mute email threads.

John: Oh yeah, even more.

Shaun: You don't need to be even on. That's over-communicating, which is another episode.

John: Which is definitely another episode.


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