How not to erode your communication credibility

Here's what you need to avoid if you want to maintain your standing in professional communications.

In a recent conversation I heard a friend lament that we often hear of what we must do to succeed in a communication function and not much is shared about what people must avoid to get better or stay on course. That got me intrigued and thought it important to blog about this subject.

Consider these cases.

Mohan is into his fourth year as a corporate communication professional with an oversight on internal communication campaigns with his organization. He is a consistent performer and stakeholders enjoy his company. However, when stakeholders challenge him on the content he often defers it back to the group and asks them to suggest an approach that works. They in turn spend time to create content, not core to their role and begin to wonder how Mohan is playing his role. Over time, stakeholders realize his inability to add value and hold a conversation on the subject. A perception builds that he isn’t capable enough to handle such assignments. They approach his team leader directly on work requests. Mohan is confused as to why he isn’t kept in the loop on projects which he once owned and directed.

Nisha is a specialist in internal communications – many stakeholders hold her in high regard. She is a go-getter and fits in well with the company culture. She is also adept at managing multiple projects that come her way. One stakeholder plays truant by adding more scope to her work without her agreement and her manager isn’t aware of how the ‘scope creep’ took place. Nisha is stressed since the new task which came on her plate isn’t possible to accomplish in the timeline expected. She withdraws into a shell and gets defensive about the additional task that has come in. Her stakeholder also makes it difficult by documenting her inability to deliver on the additional task and marking her manager. This fuels discussions on Nisha’s performance and focus on timely delivery – a topic she is so passionate about. Nisha confides in her team member that she will henceforth refuse to work with this stakeholder.

Abhay is a committed internal communicator and is good at getting the job done. He handles the company newsletter and has consistently published editions on time and with the appropriate stories that mattered to the organization. Employees love the newsletter and believe it adds value to their work. They continue to contribute a regular stream of stories which keeps Abhay engaged. During a leadership meeting a senior executive comments that the newsletter isn’t widely read and contemplates loudly if it was even needed as a channel of communication. Abhay, taken aback, doesn’t utter a word. All stakeholders present in the room begin to have doubts about the impact and value of this important internal communication vehicle Abhay’s team owns.

Carol is responsible for crafting messages for the HR team and partners closely with the recruitment and campus groups. They connect with her since she is quick to respond and delivers quality drafts that suit their plans to hire employees. Carol begins to receive frequent calls and pings on IM to attend meetings that the team holds and is pushed to deliver drafts much sooner than planned. They repeatedly follow-up with Carol even when timelines have been discussed and agreed. After a few weeks she is overwhelmed by the pace of work and errors begin to appear in her work. Her enthusiasm wanes while interacting with the stakeholder.

  •     Communication, unlike other functions, is subjective and everyone has a point of view. Which is fair but if you are the expert on the subject you need to be able to conduct and steer conversations in ways that matter.
  •     Establishing strong credentials, consistently performing to high standards and thinking ahead are expectations of any communicator. To avoid derailing your career and eroding your credibility never underestimate your worth. Be clear about your role and where your stakeholders can engage with you closely.
  •     Collaboration doesn’t mean letting go of ownership and accountability to ‘please’ the stakeholder. Yes, involving a stakeholder is important. Collaboration is a partnership where the communicator and the stakeholder work towards a common, defined and measurable goal. Allowing your stakeholder to dictate how communications is done will lead to questions being asked about your worth and relevance.
  •     Take the time to meet with and share your plans on how you are adding value to the business. By not investing time in explaining your role and the projects underway you are giving opportunities to be waylaid with ad-hoc requests and for stakeholders to bite into your precious time.
  •    If you are confident about your output, stand your ground. It doesn’t matter who asks you questions – be sure you are doing the right thing for your organization and stakeholders. It is fine to not have all the answers but get back as soon as you can.  
  •   Prepare for meetings. Be aware how you can add value, how you can use the meeting to gain different perspectives, appreciate the need better and contribute. Don’t attend meetings that you are not needed in and which deplete your time and energy. Make time to understand differing viewpoints of your stakeholders and arrive at a common ground. Not making the effort to prepare for meetings leads to a loss in credibility.

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Aniisu K. Verghese

Aniisu K. Verghese leads corporate communications and corporate social responsibility for Tesco Bengaluru, the technology and operations center of Tesco. He is an internal communication leader and author with over 16 years’ experience in internal communications and social media with retail, IT, financial services and consulting organisations. Aniisu was recognised with the 2015 PR Hall of Fame honour  by the Public Relations Council of India.