On the way to work this morning, it was no surprise to see a few drivers throwing zap signs, raging at the usual slowness or less-than-excellent driving of the morning traffic hour. It was no surprise to see newspaper posters spouting headlines about a new scandal or run-of-the-mill rumour of corruption. In South Africa, we see frequent protests, get excited or shake our heads, down a cup of coffee and move on. Or do we?
Communication in South Africa (and elsewhere) remains a hot issue. Hand in hand with necessary and exciting public involvement in campaigns like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo, various cultures and languages compete for attention in multiple arenas and among other aspects highlight the challenge of political correctness. A core part of the remedy is clear communication.
Many factors affect the way businesses handle their internal communication, external marketing and public relations. The larger picture includes less-than-savoury officials, the constant threat of load shedding, a fickle economy and service delivery issues right down to basic services such as postal, healthcare, education, housing and sanitation.
In 2012, well-known writer, journalist and political commentator Allister Sparks summarised the atmosphere of discontent in SA: “… there is a huge amount of frustration in our society, and a sense of anger too, at the unfulfilled promises of the transition, at the injustice of gross inequality and the feeling, especially among the youth, that they are simply not participating in the promised land.
Sparks believed this atmosphere of discontent is a result of high expectations: “… what we are witnessing is something that has been common to most revolutions throughout history — a repetitive cycle of disillusionment because the expectations of the revolution can never be met swiftly enough. Change is always too slow and the expectations always too urgent. It takes time to change a complex society, just as it takes many nautical miles to turn a supertanker, and those waiting for the fruits of the struggle lose patience and cry treachery.”
How to handle business communication in this context
Interactions around race, gender, sexual orientation, qualifications, social class or other hot topics often become aggressive and turn into media fodder. No respectable business wants to be caught in the middle.
What does this mean for communication in all its professional forms in SA? It means that precise, respectfully neutral and clear communication tools are all the more important. There is how you say something and how the listener perceives what you say. A careless misunderstanding can be like trying to clear a minefield without having anything go off.
Keep the following tips in mind:
- Be sure that you take the time to think before you speak or write anything, particularly when it comes to media releases, editorials, articles and newsletters or any other material under your brand name that the public might read.
- Keep political issues and cultural sensitivities in mind when dealing with the public and the media in particular.
- Make sure your information is accurate and presented as facts only and that it cannot be misconstrued as accusatory.
- Legal backup is essential in terms of getting all agreements and communication confirmed in writing. If all your business administration is within the boundaries of the law, there will be no dirt to dig up against you.
If you would like professional help with your communication material, brand messaging and public relations, get in touch with Lemonade Hub today.