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Intercultural Communication: understanding and engaging-the Mayan experience

 

Shanoy Coombs Intercultural Communication
Shanoy Coombs interviews members of a Mayan Community in Southern Belize

During a recent supervisory mission to Belize, our team of Community Engagement, Monitoring and Evaluation and Project Management specialists assesed a project around Climate resilience in  Mayan communities in the southern region. The occasion provided the opportunity to experience a time hop and experience first hand the benefits and significance of Intercultural Communication.

Intercultural communication by definition is the way that different groups or cultures communicate. It also refers to the different contexts that influence this communication and indeed the barriers.

In so many ways, Intercultural communication takes your general definition of communication and zooms in on the cultural elements.

Here’s a fact. Outside of language differences being a major roadblock in communication, different variations, even within the same community is something worth considering and this was evidenced during my recent mission.

What was discovered from the initial community assessment and engagement session was the need for constant and multiple interpreters throughout the process. After all, for such a  culturally diverse space, there could often be heard fluent Spanish, hints of English and then the native Q’eqchi’  and Mopan.  Further afield Belize also boasts countless languages including Belizean Creole, German, Garifuna and  Plautdietsch  which is spoken mainly by the Mennonite population. Imagine then, the conundrum if one were to attempt to implement a strategy for the “general public”, which I’ve already debunked in a prior post. 

Shanoy Coombs Intercultural Communication
Shanoy Coombs and team engages village members during a community engagement session in Southern Belize

Even with its diversity, who would have thought that a “known term” such as climate change would prove troublesome. On the ground, we had to face this reality as in the native language, there were no equivalent to properly convey this term. Instead what emerged was a series of explanations, whereby members of the villages were able to interact and then share their understanding of what the term meant to them. 

It was interesting to witness first hand all the language constructs that needed to be considered when creating what would otherwise be routine communication materials for the intended population.

 

Cultural Hierarchy

Of key significance as well was the importance of cultural norms and how they affected our intercultural communication cycles.  I’ve long known the importance of building trust with communities in the development communication framework but had quite the learning experience with the gatekeepers in Southern Belize. An important fact is the cultural hierarchies and how they influence what some may call a communication tree. One cannot and should never attempt for example to implement any initiative on behalf of a community without first building rapport, trust and even camaraderie with its leaders. In Belize, this was no different and was in fact a necessity.

Long known for its traditional system of governance which differs greatly from the urban areas of Belize, the Mayans of the south operate under this traditional system, recognized under both Maya cultural authority and the State of Belize and governed by both the Maya cultural tradition and the Constitution of Belize.

For context, this excerpt from the Cultural Survival network sheds a bit more light.

For over a century now, the Alcaldes work together with the Maya villages as guardians of Maya values and norms. Entrusted by their communities, the Alcaldes are the authorities of the Alcaldes System established to maintain the order of the villages using traditional governance.

Having recognized this, priority was given to first nurturing a relationship with the Alcaldes and the village councils before any attempt could be made to engage members of the villages. The nurturing of this relationship extended well beyond sharing our WHY and HOW the project would have been beneficial for the grouping to truly embracing and celebrating the culture. It was commonplace then to be invited in at every household for the special occassion meal of Caldo and corn tortillas. Today I’ll joke that I’ve never had as much of the same meal in any one go, but for me it was significant as with every household entered, every meal enjoyed, our team was one step closer to understanding and gaining the trust and approval of our Mayan audience.

This trust was all too integral as it eventually found us the approval we needed to proceed further with communicating directly with members of the villages. Even then, content had to be vetted and clearly explained in every go. The experience was a reminder about the importance of cultural norms and how to engage in such a way that there are no abrupt deviations from what holds.

Right Strategy, wrong fit

 

Shanoy Coombs Belize

Another solid intercultural learning experience was linked to communication strategy mapping. As the Knowledge Management and Communication specialist on the ground. I quizzed both the community engagement officers (COs) and village members about how they communicated project related matters with each other. With a massive distance between villages, bumpy roads and long hours via bike for the CO’s, I recommended strategies such as a town crier/Megaphone to complement the existing means of communication. While acknowledging the possible benefits of this, the Co’s pointed out a key piece of data that I had not yet been exposed to. “Several of the community members are older. They prefer to have us here speaking to them directly, so that they can ask the questions repeatedly until they understand”. So it was that despite being able to only cover 2 households in one day, we agreed that culturally, word of mouth, though not the most efficient use of time was the most effective method based on the audience we served.

 

With the reminders about language differences, cultural sensitivities and the right strategy,  In  many ways, my Southern Belize experience reaffirmed much of what I already knew about communication as an interactive and engaging process. Yet it also found so many ways to serve as a reminder that on the intercultural communication path, there is value in patience, power in building trust and rewards in truly listening to be able to meet the needs of those we serve.

 

Are you in the intercultural communication space? What has been one of your most memorable intercultural exchanges? let’s stay in touch join my mailing list


Shanoy Coombs is a Development Communication Consultant in the Latin America and Caribbean region.  Are you Social? Connect with Shanoy  on twitter via @InspiraShan and learn more about her work via the projects page.

 

 

 

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The power of the YES Manifest

Happy New Year! Cheers to new communications goals and new communications targets! So I wanted to share a slightly different post today which is the perfect feel good vibe to kick off a new year with a tip or two on how to live the very best version of your life. So here’s the thing, I’ve always believed in the law of attraction.  Before it became a buzz word, there was something that indicated that the relationship between the mind and what occurs in the physical realm are connected.

Call it a mix of instincts or your “inner voice” but what may have been a seemingly simple thing such as glancing at an umbrella before heading outdoors, or a tiny voice that buzzed “take an extra pair of shoe” have always converted into some connection with what was likely to occur throughout my day.

I know for example too that the few times I had been foolish enough to avoid new year resolutions led to an almost wanderless year for me.  Similarly, I recall the very first time I made a strategic list of things I wished to achieve throughout the year and like clockwork at the end of the period, I had checked almost all the boxes.  It is this little ‘thing’ this little buzz that has made me a firm believer in the power of the “YES Manifest”.

Read More Continue reading “The power of the YES Manifest”

C4D, Communication, Communication for Development, Development Communication, Fatherhood, MenCare, Social and Behaviour Change Communication, Uncategorized

The Global MenCare partnership & what it could mean for Jamaica

By Shanoy Coombs

Men Care Jamaica Back in April 2018, while a delegate at the International Social and Behaviour Communication Change (SBCC) summit, I sat engaged, involved and ever so active as presenter after presenter spoke about the varied Social and Behaviour Communication Change projects they were implementing in their countries. 

You see, I was generally intrigued about the ways to better my craft as a Development Communication practitioner and specifically, I was listening out for tips I could take back to my native Jamaica to pour into my local Jamaican Mommies network.  I had therefore slotted in quite a few sessions around teenage pregnancy, admittedly with women at the forefront of my mind.  Yet, the more I listened, the more I discovered a growing global gap in the development space: Men and Boys. 

Interestingly,  it is a well known fact that men already hold disproportionate power to women and girls globally and so several efforts would have been made the world over to bring about gender equality with a rise in women empowerment interventions. As this empowerment movement grows, there have emerged new gaps in terms of how gender equality may be approached, especially when we begin to speak about men.  Continue reading “The Global MenCare partnership & what it could mean for Jamaica”

C4D, Communication for Development, Development Communication, Social and Behaviour Change Communication, Social Marketing, Uncategorized

The Social and Behaviour Change Communication mandate and the Caribbean Voice

By: Shanoy Coombs

The recently concluded International Social Behaviour Change Communication (SBCC) summit in Bali, Indonesia brought together well over 1200 delegates from 429 organizations and 92 countries across the globe to interact and engage around all things SBCC.  Under the theme: Shifting Norms, Changing Behavior, Amplifying Voice What works? with a focus on Entertainment-Education, the event was hosted by the John Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, The Communication Initiative, BBC Media Action, Soul City Institute and UNICEF.

Shanoy Coombs SBCC Conference 2018
Shanoy Coombs, second right joins global change makers at the 2018 Social and Behaviour Change Communication Summit in Bali, Indonesia.

The weeklong dialogue, presentations and workshops were engaging, interactive and zoomed in on What works, Making sense of the now and Agenda and Voice setting. Indeed being in the space was monumental as it provided a prime opportunity for awareness and conversations around the field that is at the root of some of the most effective behaviour change interventions.  It therefore stood out sharply that the Caribbean’s voice was notably limited in such an important global event.

Admittedly, I interacted with one other US based Jamaican and a colleague from Antigua who advised me that a St. Lucia grouping was also present. The graphic below puts this into perspective. Continue reading “The Social and Behaviour Change Communication mandate and the Caribbean Voice”

C4D, Communication, Communication Practitioner, Communication Tips

IT’s NOT THE WORKSHOP, IT’s YOU: How to maximize your benefits everytime

It's not the workshop

whatsapp-image-2018-06-20-at-1-26-04-am.jpeg

 

By: Shanoy Coombs

I started writing this post a while back and initially intended to cover the more negative aspects of workshops along the lines of “Why workshops don’t work in your favour” but now I’m sitting at the Social and Behaviour Change Communication summit here in Bali, Indonesia, soaking up so much knowledge and strategizing my next behaviour change moves that it shifted my tone.

Frankly, my initial trepidation and negative undertone was brought on by a few workshops that I had attended previously and sometimes left asking “Now what?” In fact, outside of my own skepticism, I’ve also interacted with other persons who have sometimes viewed workshops as “good for a time” or one of those “At least I get a break from the office” sort of affairs.

Now today, reformed, energized and ready to be more of a do gooder and change maker, I am more of a believer and want you to know that It’s not the workshop, It’s you! Quite a brazen conclusion but I’ve deliberately left off the “some workshops” and here’s why:

 

DO YOUR RESEARCH: Chances are, your bad workshop experience is linked to what you felt did not cover key areas you were interested in or were not engaging enough.  Having coordinated and attended more than a few workshops over the past decade, I’ve discovered that a major way to avoid this pitfall is to thoroughly research the workshop, its objectives, the presenters and how they align to what your or your organization’s goals are. Sure your Human Resources Manager may have been handed a flier that pitched the session as “Highly effective for building strategic communication” but as the practitioner, your probe may reveal that the topics are ones you may already have been exposed to or the approach is one which may add no real value to your current post.

it's not the workshop, it's you!

                                                           HAVE A GAME PLAN: Workshops, like conferences, summits et al can provide an excellent opportunity for meeting your personal and organizational goal, if you are strategic in your doing.  Does the workshop or conference provide a list of speakers? Sponsors? Attendees? Are there specific persons you would love to connect with, unique best practices you are targeting?  Write or type these down, Your pre- workshop preparation is as important if not more important than your actual presence.  Plan ahead and maximize the value of being there

 

SCHEDULE AND PRIORITIZE: If you were to only do 2 sessions from any conference or workshop, which would it be? Seek to access workshop or conference materials ahead of sessions and carefully prioritize which are more impactful for your goals or your end game.  I learnt this pretty early in but needed the reminder more than ever while at the Social and Behaviour Change communication summit while looking at agendas with close to 1200 attendees competing to book skills building workshops and fit into  a diverse range of presentations, multiple “Interest sessions” running at the same time and almost everything being in line with my end game.  It helped when I utilized the summit  app and news and updates/ daily digest features to schedule sessions in order of “must dos” and alternates. Continue reading “IT’s NOT THE WORKSHOP, IT’s YOU: How to maximize your benefits everytime”

Communication for Development, cyberbully, Social Media

Social Awareness initiatives and the stand against cyber bullying

By: Shanoy Coombs

autumn moments (1)

Not too long ago, rumormongers in an effort to hurl nasty words would get the gears going by telling one, two then a few persons salacious and sometimes downright degrading things about others. This would often start within communities and may then extend beyond.  Yet still, there were some limitations.  Then came the internet and with all the positives that access and reach have provided, so too have the overwhelming negatives. From email lists, Social Media portals, accusatory websites and then some, the internet has been heavily utilized for cyber-bullying and global rumor-mongering.

And never for a moment assume you are out of harm’s reach. Alarmingly, one research estimates that as much as 40% of adults have experienced cyber bullying. Further a local security adviser noted:

“One of the major challenges with cyber bullying is tracing the source.  Frankly, most persons who have made reports around same are usually shocked when pressed for more information as they are genuinely unable to identify a source or a motive. In fact, we have seen several cases where people are bullied over seemingly simple issues and by persons as close or as far as an envious ex partner, a jealous co-worker, a business partner or even a malicious complete stranger who only has access to another person’s life via glimpses on social Media”.

True to form, globally and in the local space, there has been an increasing number of artistes, athletes, business persons, persons who have started to build a  reach and generally just about anyone  have been subjected to some form of cyber-bullying. Just actually talk to a few persons and you’d be amazed at how many within your space have been affected in this way.  These cyber bully postings have ranged from being extortion like in nature to being more on the libelous, malicious and defamatory side. One has to only look at the comments sections of posts online to see some of the overwhelming and cringe worthy examples.

Continue reading “Social Awareness initiatives and the stand against cyber bullying”

Communication, Communication Tips, Flexibility, Uncategorized

The Millennials: Understanding and communicating with them

• THOSE MILLENIALS •

By: Shanoy Coombs

While the discussions around millennials (those born approximately between 1982 and 2000) and some communication challenges have been ongoing, recent conversations in the local space shows that the challenges continue. This again brings to the fore the need to highlight how best to communicate with “the millennials”.  Indeed a Jamaica Gleaner article dated November 5, 2017 opined:

At the same time, even Generation X, which just preceded the Millennials, seem to bristle in interactions with them. One common theme is that the liberal philosophy, brashness and sense of entitlement that is often exhibited by Millennials, flies in the face of the discipline, patience and struggle that is integral to the lives of those who have gone before. It smacks of disrespect and/or ignorance.

– Trevor E. Smith, Jamaica Gleaner

While the article goes on to highlight some of the ways in which millennials and other generations may be better able to move beyond their differences, I found Grossman’s piece on communication with the next “Next generation” to be compelling as it indicates that millennials too feel misunderstood. Indeed I hinted at this when I spoke about the flexibility required by modern communicators.

Given the clear difference of opinions and what may constitute a productivity divide, the info graphic below summarizes typical millennial characteristics which can foster better communication with them/ me/ us 🙂

The Next “Next Generation”_ Communicating with Millennials

Having assessed some of the challenges expressed by those who work with millennials and the characteristics of these millennials, it brings to the fore yet another issue that can easily be addressed via communication.  Not communication in a very technical sense but the art of interacting with each other, providing channels for feedback and arriving at sustainable solutions. So the next time you are tempted to gasp “ughhh those millenials” or “Omg, no one understands us millenials”, your easiest solution may be to start off with a conversation.  This should be done in an effort to get a better understanding of each other and the expectations in a productive space. Again, we already know the power of communication towards engagement and collaboration and now we are equipped with characteristics, so let’s make it a priority even in our immediate space.  Importantly too, it benefits all to remember that the ‘top down’ approach to communication doesn’t work! Engagement does!

Are you a millennial? What are some of the communication challenges you face within the productive space? Share these in the comments below. Do you interact with millennials, what are some of your major issues? Need communication guidelines? Let me help you create that story!

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============================================================================Shanoy Coombs is a Development Communication Consultant in the Latin America and Caribbean region.  Are you Social? Connect with Shanoy  on twitter via @InspiraShan and learn more about her work via the projects page

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caribbean, Communication for Development, Communication Tips, Intercultural Communication, Second Language, Uncategorized

Bridging the Multicultural Divide: Why Caribbean Nationals NEED to learn a second language

By: Shanoy Coombs

Second language postAs a Development Communication person, I tend to find communication lessons everywhere and a few weeks ago when I was among a group of students from the German-Jordanian University, it was no different.  As this diverse group of students were in the middle Eastern country, Jordan for immersive experiences while learning the Arabic language, it brought some important language lessons to the fore.  With courses ranging from one semester to an entire year, I was bemused by the emphasis placed on acquisition of a second (and in some instances a third  language).  As I struggled with basic Arabic terms, it took me back to something I have always been almost preachy about-that Caribbean nationals NEED to learn a second language.

This has long been apparent to me while working within the United Nation’s Latin America and the Caribbean cluster.  I recall with much clarity that the monthly regional Communicators meetings had in excess of two thirds of the attendees being from Spanish Speaking countries.  It was even more worrying that most attendees from the Spanish speaking territories could speak and understand English with some clarity but not vice versa.

More compellingly, I recall working along with colleagues from Chile and Venzuela to translate a series of Petro Caribe related documents-all published in Spanish and needing to be readied for the English heavy Jamaican media.   It dawned on me then with much force, that my colleagues by virtue of their ability to move between the English and Spanish languages had better equipped themselves for regional posts within the organization.  That fact hit me with such a blunt force that I refocused my efforts on at least grasping Spanish.  This realization and my recent Arabic immersion compelled me to list some of the reasons why Caribbean Nationals NEED to learn a second language:

  1. Regional Commonsense:  By virtue of our geographic location, the Caribbean will likely forever be looped with Latin America.  It is therefore commonsense that Caribbean people start with a second language such as Spanish to better assist us to navigate trade and other relations throughout the region.
  2. Personal Good: If you love meeting new people as much as I do, then this is a no brainer. Some of my most meaningful conversations have been struck in airport lounges, coffee shops and other common areas while travelling with persons from other nationalities  utilizing my intermediate level Spanish skills.
  3. Business Development: Sure you can hire a translator, but on the odd account that you are travelling for business solo or negotiating a new deal as a young entrepreneur, it is useful and beneficial to be able to interact at the basic level in the native language.  Besides, the ability to communicate in a native language can set the tone for better reception and even lifelong friendships thereafter.
  4. Added Value/Competitive Edge: Increasingly, as we forge ahead in this ‘global marketplace’ a second language should be as second nature as utilizing technology across borders. Indeed, in some professions it already is and in toe to toe job interviews for example, your ability to interact in a second language can be the deciding factor.
  5. Adaptability: So you want added opportunities and you want to be recognized as a “global minded” individual? One of the easiest ways to actually earn this title is to adequately prepare yourself to be recognized as such. Being able to speak a second language puts you in a better professional position to bridge several multi cultural barriers and essentially shows that you are diverse, adaptable and possess the ability to interact with other cultures.

Communication industry wise, I’m going out on a limb to say ALL Communication professionals (Journalists, Public Relations practitioners, Development Communication Specialists, Behaviour change and Corporate communication officers etc) and indeed anyone with the intention to do business outside of their own country’s shores should be equipped with a second language.  This becomes more imperative if you are trying to diversify your service offerings across borders and cultures.  Notably too “Cross culture” and “Intercultural communication” continues to be industry buzz words that aren’t likely to disappear soon. Hence NOW is the time to ensure you are meaningfully engaged in this “world without borders” paradigm.

From my end, there is much merit in being a bi or multi-lingual development communication specialist and so I’m continuing the fluency pursuit con El Espanol. Who knows too, having grown a new appreciation for the Arabic language after being so thoroughly  immersed during my recent middle Eastern hop, it may just be my next language to fully pursue.

It is heartening too that for a while now, the Jamaican Government has been encouraging more citizens to learn Spanish as second language.  Whether or not there are fully mapped plans in place to ensure there is island wide take up is another situation. Frankly, having studied Spanish as a high schooler, I am now seeing major merit in  advancing to sit same in the local Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) exams.  In fact, mandatory Spanish at the examination level may be just the start to ensure there is widespread take up.

Otherwise, the Venezuelan Institute in several Caribbean countries offers free Spanish lessons from the Basic to post-superior level.  There are also local language centers which offer Spanish, French and other language lessons and remotely, several online platforms offer engaging language studies. Still, Caribbean Nationals can also learn languages by immersion at neighboring countries where the language of choice is the native language.

Are you a bi or multi lingual professional? What are some of the benefits you have reaped as such? What are your favourite channels by which to learn a new language? Have you learnt a new language via cultural immersion? Share in the comments below.

P.S. Read about my “Jamaican in Jordan” feature in The Gleaner. 

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Shanoy Coombs is a Development Communication Consultant in the Latin America and Caribbean region.  Are you Social? Connect with Shanoy  on twitter via @InspiraShan and learn more about her work via the projects page

 

Audience segmentation, Communication, Communication Consultant, Communication for Development, Communication Practitioner, Communication Tips, Development Communication, Public Relations

Communicators know: The “General Public” isn’t so “General” after all…

COMMUNICATORS KNOW

By: Shanoy Coombs

A few weeks ago, I was invited on a panel to assess a series of University behavior change campaigns. I sat, intrigued and engaged as varied final year students went into the strategies and tactics they intended to use to reach their different audiences. As one group presented, they went into how they’d effectively utilize traditional forms of communication to reach the “general public”.  The group went on to highlight why radio was selected and the intended outcome via that medium.

As the panel queried the reason for radio for a community level intervention, a team member shrugged “Well we want everyone to know about it”.  A series of questions, comments and other suggestions later, it was revealed that radio would not have been the ideal medium for the audience in question.  In fact, it was revealed that a direct community level intervention such as a community/town hall meeting would have been more appropriate and effective to achieve the intended objectives.

This example brings me back to current realities where the “general public” is a constant phrase in several communication programme discussions.  You may have heard the term tossed around as you were briefed by a programmes unit, head of office, Managing Director and CEO.  Often it is accompanied by the words “We want everyone to know what we are doing”. Realistically, wanting “everyone to know” is not a bad objective, however as many communicators should be able to advise, within that “everyone” group can be found several specific groups including youth, children, adults, men, women, senior citizens, English Speakers, people who listen to the radio, those who watch TV at specific times, those who read specific publications and even those who only consume content from electronic platforms.  I say all of this to say, generally, audiences are not so general after all.  Continue reading “Communicators know: The “General Public” isn’t so “General” after all…”

Communication, Communication Practitioner, Uncategorized

Misconceptions of Communication: What Colleagues, Clients and Customers need to know

Misconceptions of Communication

By: Shanoy Coombs

A few years ago,  a colleague of mine in the Information Technology field bemoaned daily that just about no one in his organization seemed to know the full capability or capacity of an Information Technology personnel.  He grumbled through several rounds of requests to service the office’s printer, to layout a greeting card for a manager, to convert files from and to PDF, to create a ‘collage of photos with music in the background’, to set up the PA system and the list goes on.  I would often smile or even laugh out loud at his predicament, but often could share his pain, frustration and outright disdain because the tales he told are dead on what several persons within the broader communication field face on a daily basis.

In all my optimistic glory, I once levied the blame squarely at the feet of communicators who did not properly educate clients and employers about what Communication is and isn’t. Definitions for Communication aside, my optimistic bubble was literally inflated, mid sentence, in a meeting where I sought to espouse this grand idea for a community-level behavior change intervention. While diving into how important our messaging had to be for our audiences, a senior personnel announced (with a flick of the wrist) “And the communication people can be the ones who greet the people at the entrance of the event”.  Aghast and no doubt heavily disappointed, I realized that it wasn’t so much the fact that the broader role that I was highlighting was being reduced  to one of ‘welcoming guests’ but more so that the broader role of who I am as a communication personnel and the many other ways in which I could add real value was being overlooked.

Beyond that experience, I’ve interacted with several Communication personnel who have had some run-in or the other with colleagues, clients and other customers who have often misunderstood or misinterpreted their role and the dynamics of the field in which they operate.  This post is therefore as important for the client and colleague as it is for the communicator who wishes to make a case for what communication is and isn’t and what the communication practitioner does and doesn’t do.

Naturally, in acknowledging the wholesomeness in diversity, I reached out to several Communication practitioners across the globe in varied fields and professions.  From Public Relations Practitioners, Directors of Corporate Communication, Marketing and Communication Managers, Advocacy and Information Officers and Communication analysts in the Foreign Services, Government, Private Sector, International Organizations and NGO’s the feedback was equally varied.  The simple question posed was:

What are some of the biggest misconceptions/ misunderstanding about the Communication field and the role of the Communication practitioner?

Even in their diversity, the responses largely fit one of the following three (3) categories:

  1. What Communication is or isn’t (the difference between communication and CommunicationS)
  2. Who is a Communication Practitioner?
  3. The “Value”of Communication to an Organization

 

What Communication Is or Isn’t

What-is-Communication

For starters, One senior communication personnel noted

“One of my recent pet peeves is to see that communication is now being used interchangeably with communications. I know language is dynamic but…

Director of Public Education, Public Sector, Jamaica

and true to her pet peeve, what a big difference the S makes. In summary, CommunicationS is a system for transmitting or exchanging information – such as computers, telephones, radio and television while Communication involves individuals exchanging information or messages through shared symbols, behaviours or signs.  The CommunicationS Practitioner is therefore more likely to be your cable guy or your telephone technician while the Communication Practitioner is more likely to be your Public Relations, Public Education, Advocacy or Knowledge Management Professional.  Get it? So the next time you are tempted to add or subtract that S, be very mindful of what you are communicating (pun intended).

Communication can be complex or as simple as the persons engaging in the communication process. Often one of the errors in the communication cycle is one or more party believing that once the message they intend to share leaves the particular channel, communication has taken place. Feedback is often ignored as non-essential so the process is moved along without verification that the message is indeed received and understood, and that the message has been received as the sender intended.

-Assistant Corporate Communication Manager, Insurance Sector

The first myth is that communication is simply the transfer of information, just like using a computer. People aren’t like computers that process data like machines. Our communicative behavior is much more complex and part of that complexity is the fact that we don’t all respond equally to each message, even to the same message sent over and over in a different context. If we assume, therefore, that once we have sent a message, it will obviously be correctly received, we set ourselves up for communication failures.

These are things that communication experts have to take into consideration when drafting a story, a press release or any other form of communication. Contrary to others beliefs, communication is not about just sharing information but rather about exerting influence and encouraging behavioral change. The goal of communication is not simply telling, but acting, changing people’s behavior through what we say to them. If communication is solely just the transfer of information then our jobs would be easy because it does not take much active effort to transfer information [like computers].

-Communication Manager, Global Health and Wellness Company

Who is a Communication Practitioner?

giphy

Largely, a wide cross section of communication professional highlighted this as one of the primary misconceptions around their work.

The biggest misunderstanding is that everyone is a communication practitioner  because he or she can speak well or has a knack for writing.  Persons who view communication this way, sometimes believe there is no art or science behind communication. However, communication is a discipline that has to be approached from a strategic point of view so as to add tangible value  to the organization.  

Frankly, I am not saying that everyone does not have a role to play in the communication process. Because every employee for example should be a brand ambassador for your organization, however, for communication to be effective, it must be managed and coordinated primarily by a trained individual.

– Public Relations Specialist, Energy Sector, South Africa

Firstly, it’s the notion that  training is not necessary for one to become a communication practitioner.  That it’s something which could be done by the anyone (secretary or Admin Clerk).  For me this belies any understanding of the profession and demonstrates how little value, if any, is placed on the field and the practice. 

Some persons think that people in “PR” or communication should also be the chief logistics officer and so sometimes our worth is judged by our ability to execute events/activities vs landing messages and influencing behavior/thought through the actual ‘ communication ‘ work that we do. 

– Marketing Communications Manager, Telecommunications Industry, Caribbean

The misconceptions/misunderstandings are so diverse and include:

1. Misconceptions that the role is ONLY about preparing press releases, brochures and doing environmental education.

2. Misconceptions that Communication is not a specialized skill and anyone can do it with enough practice.

3. Misconception that you do not need resources/money to do a communications programme.

4. Often not recognized as a major part of resource mobilization and effectively demonstrating the work of an organization.

– Knowledge Management Director, International Organization, Regional Office of the Caribbean

One of the biggest misconceptions for PR practitioners is that it is a glamorous field with little work and lots of fluff. Unfortunately people rarely see the behind the scenes that goes into what the public sees. It must be understood that PR is a strategists role which requires proper planning and precise execution.

– Integrated Marketing Communications Officer, Private Sector, Jamaica

Sadly some companies don’t fully appreciate the creative process, and are unwilling to invest in the tools/training/resources needed to create quality outputs.

– Communication Officer, Private Sector, Guyana

 

The “Value”of Communication to an Organization

communicating-2x1

Looking at it from a reputation management perspective…if your actions were not genuine and caused your reputation to be damaged  communications/PR alone can’t “white wash” or redeem your situation. There are several other factors to be considered which requires some joint strategies coined in collaboration with affected parties and other key stakeholders. 

– Public Relations Officer, Private Sector, Germany

While there is such an extensive role for the communication practitioner, a huge misconception is the attitude that Communication (especially PR) is only necessary if the company or individual  is facing a crisis.  Outside of that the practitioner is seen as adding little value to the bottom line.

Communication practitioners are constantly being asked to explain what value they bring to the Organization.  In essence, are we getting value for money when we hire you?  This affects the level of remuneration for practitioners, and how they are integrated into the wider planning processes of the organization.  Far too often, their involvement in projects come after the project has been designed and not during the design phase.

A big misconception is the ongoing confusion of what is PR versus Spin versus marketing, and the ethics guiding the profession.

There is the tendency to focus more on measurement and evaluation of communication outputs and products and pay scant attention to other qualitative outcomes.

–  Communication Consultant, International Organization, Guyana

A grave misconception is that communication is just about issuing press releases and that the practitioner  just needs to be able to write.  In fact they need to be a good analyst and strategist.

-Diplomatic Relations, United States of America

One of the most common offence that people often make is to think that communication persons are all fluff…persons that just attend events and write press releases. Yet a communication person is the first point of contact when it comes to a person’s perception of a particular brand. I say first because even when persons view finished marketing material that material had to go through a communication process to ensure that the messaging is what the business wants to translate to its customers.

– Assistant Manager, Corporate Social Responsibility, Caribbean Insurance sector

People regard communication as passive meaning we easily send out our messages and let them take their course without even bothering to reinforce them or check to see if others received it. However, when people start to begin seeing communication as exerting influence and shaping behaviours then we will realize that it is anything but passive. Communication practitioners have to actively and carefully attend to the messages that they send. We have to be cognizant of the unintentional messages that we might end up sharing so we have to always manage our communication strategically, making sure we make the most of the messages we send considering all the other scenarios that could arrive.
-Behaviour Communication Change Officer, Health Sector
I find communication is used as a broad brush term with too little appreciation for the nuances of the various communication disciplines-development communication , Public Relations, Marketing, Advertising, Internal communication, Corporate Communication etc.
-Communications Programme Lead, Public Sector
 
There is the notion that because your the ‘comms person’-you are supposed to speak a lot, be outgoing, master presentations and speeches, do events, capture images -everything- when some persons are not fully trained for all elements. 
In recent times, I have also found that Change Management  is easily thrown into the Communication process though disciplines such as Organizational Development exist to address such specifications. So an organization may be going through changes and it is anticipated that the communication practitioner should know how to manage the entire change process.  I however believe that  planning communications and sensitization programmes are quite different from selling.  Looking back , the Social marketing programme offering at my uiniversity was probably the best taught discipline to be ready for the diverse Communication sector work demands. 
Communications Specialist, Public Sector Jamaica

I think that communication Practitioners are generally under appreciated which is too unfortunate as they have a powerful network to leverage so they should always be advised when important decisions are made. 

Health Insurance Sector, United States of America

To add to the list of misconceptions, a major one that has stood out for me over the years is that just about every organization knows or believes that communication is important but few know why and even fewer know how to integrate same into their varied planning processes. True to form, several colleagues will agree that too often, the communication practitioner is just about obliterated from the planning process and are often called in on the back end simply to ‘generate visibility’ around outcomes.
Additionally, and as several colleagues have shared, there continues to be a mass dumping of “other tasks” under the communication portfolio.  Largely, when a task does not stand out as finance, engineering, Information Technology or administration, it often gets pushed under the communication portfolio.
While just a minor representation of the broader issues faced within the Communication industry, the views above give some insights about challenges that will need to be addressed and navigated by clients, customers and colleagues if strategic objectives are to be addressed well strategically.
As a point of entry, what has worked in my line of duty are clear definitions around the organization’s, project’s or processes needs and the value the communication practitioner can add to same.  In the longer term, there has to be consistent and open dialogue between clients, customers and colleagues around the miscommunication and other shortfalls in the process, so they can be effectively addressed.
Are you a Communication Practitioner? Can you relate to the aforementioned challenges? What are some of the biggest misconceptions you have encountered to date? How have you worked through some of these misconceptions? Share with us below.
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 Misconceptions of Communication
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 Shanoy Coombs is a Development Communication Consultant in the Latin America and Caribbean region.  Are you Social? Connect with Shanoy  on twitter via @InspiraShan and learn more about her work via the projects page.