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How important is the truth?

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Communication strategies and channels, however well-crafted and used, are only meaningful if fundamental personal communication competencies are in place across an organization. These competencies ideally encompass authenticity, integrity, empathy, right intentions and high levels of emotional intelligence.  Find out more about communication in the post-truth world…

Ready for communication in a post-truth world?

Q&A with Penelope Newton-Hurley.
24 April 2017 by
Khyla Flores


Excerpt taken from the IABC’s Communication World Magazineread the full article 

IABC Associate Editor Khyla Flores recently spoke with the founder of The Communication Troubleshooter, Penelope Newton-Hurley, about the need for ethical communication and how to navigate the world of “alternative facts.”

Khyla Flores: What is the importance of truth and transparency to the communication profession?

Penelope Newton-Hurley: Truth and transparency, in my opinion, are fundamental, and the key foundation to all communication. When an audience has any inkling that something isn’t quite as it is being reported, then at best they will be cautious, and at worst their trust could be seriously at stake.

A culture of truth has to be nurtured by leadership—a leader who demonstrates what it is to be truthful serves as a role model and has the opportunity to influence the rest of the organization.

It helps enormously to state truth as a value, as long as the leadership fully embraces its breadth—it can’t cover some areas and not others and can’t contain loopholes. Truth has an even better chance of running through the organization if employees sign up to a charter or code. IABC, for instance, has a code of ethics that promotes such communication linchpins as accuracy, honesty, sensitivity to others, and only guaranteeing what you know can be delivered. The multinational Intel has a code of conduct that states, “We value clear, accurate, respectful and professional communication in all of our business interactions. Ambiguous and unprofessional communications—whether oral or written—can harm Intel. Even well-intentioned communications can be misinterpreted.”

KF: “Alternative facts” is a recently coined phrase, though the premise behind it is not new. How does the idea that this phrase represents fit into the communication landscape?

PNH: “Alternative facts” is actually a term in law to describe inconsistent sets of facts with plausible evidence to support both alternatives. However it was used recently by U.S. Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, defending White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s statement about attendance figures at Donald Trump’s inauguration, which he estimated to be far higher than aerial images and rail passenger numbers showed.

I think we have to remember that communication between humans is always subject to an individual’s perspective. Each of us has our own unique way of looking at things depending on the personal filters we have developed throughout our lives, our beliefs and values, preferences and experiences. Put these filters together with our emotions and reactions when we receive information, and it is so easy to see how the original message can be skewed, mixed with opinions and flavored with perspectives and biases.

Focusing on facts from a verified source is essential—and so, too, is communicating these in context to give the full picture. Once released to the audience, it is open to the emotions and opinions it provokes, and only the audience has control over that, but focusing on facts and context will help to minimize the risk of misinterpretation.

KF: How can communication professionals make the case to organizational leaders for the value of truth and transparency?

PNH: As the Towers Watson survey Communication ROI Study Report 2009–2010 states, “It takes 10 times the effort to correct misinformation than it does to deliver correct information in the first place.” This is a premise we should all work by to ensure efficiency within our working processes, but the ramifications of a leader not conforming with truth and transparency go far beyond productive working practices. And communication professionals only need to point to the “alternative facts” scenario to show the global damage that a misguided comment can do, which may be evidence enough for leaders.

On the other hand, the need for leaders to be squeaky clean with communication can add stress, and it would be good for communication professionals to convey how humility can play a great part when mistakes are made. A genuine willingness to own responsibility for untruths, if they were a mistake, shows a certain quality that people admire greatly. Deliberate untruths are more tricky to handle—and the advice here should be to take ownership and offer a truthful explanation of how it happened. This might mean an uncomfortable declaration of wanting to make something sound better than it was, but the intention or need behind that might be the security of the company which—despite the unwanted untruth—is at least something that people can relate to. And of course this goes along with a pledge—and actions—not to repeat the same behavior.

KF: How can we ensure that the values of truth and transparency prevail?

PNH: Ensuring truth and transparency calls for awareness, critical thinking, and critiquing every single word that is communicated. Awareness is about printing truth and transparency at the top of every agenda page, to-do list and checklist. It’s a mental filter that everything we say and do should go through.

Critical thinking calls for questioning our thinking (or the metacognitive aspects of our mind), our beliefs and biases to check that what we are propagating isn’t skewed by our own thought processes. For example, Richard Paul and Linda Elder of the Foundation for Critical Thinking, suggest one concept of the mind is, “activated ignorance,” the act of taking on patently false information and acting upon it as if it were true. Another example is “confirmation bias,” where we tend to take on information that confirms our preconceptions—these are often linked to something we believe in strongly, such as climate change—where we might be reluctant to share information that is in contradiction to our own beliefs on the subject.

In communication, every single word counts and it is important to choose our words wisely, then check and double-check before issuing them. As we know, the time we spend on this will be tenfold the time it takes to rectify it if we don’t!

Transformational leaders will have all this as part of their mantra, but many other leaders will not be aware. Communication professionals have the opportunity to help make it so. By continuously upholding these values and not being afraid to question and qualify their sources of information.


The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) is a global network of communication professionals committed to improving organizational effectiveness through strategic communication. Established in 1970, IABC serves members in more than 70 countries for networking,
career development and personal growth.

This excerpt was taken from the IABC’s Communication World Magazine – read the full article 




Penelope Newton-Hurley is a Communication Troubleshooter,Consultant, Trainer and Mediator
The Communication Troubleshooter helps drive engagement and performance through Emotional Intelligence and CommPassion© Communication techniques.

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