Listening – in one ear and out the other…


We all listen right?  We listen to Ted talks, we listen to the radio, we listen to our kids, our families and our friends. We listen to the people we work for, the people who work for us. But my question to you is, do we listen in the same way to all of these? Do our ears get bigger depending on how important the topic is for us? Do we HEAR what people are saying when they’re talking, or do we just pick out the bits that suit us?

It’s a complicated set of questions. Because I bet we would all say that most of the time we are really good listeners. That we have empathy and can really respond in a way that shows we’ve been tuned in. but do we? There has been loads of research done that says we pick out the bits we want to hear, the bits that are relevant to us. So when someone tells us something that is happening to them in their lives, we find the bit that is relevant to us. It makes sense right, it means we can relate to it, can understand what they’re saying in the context of ourselves. It is in fact what makes a big contribution to a conversation.

So why talk about listening?

Well, I think that there are many opportunities lost when we don’t really listen to people. I think that wars could be stopped, that religions can live together, that governments and people could realise they want the same things, but from different perspectives. I think that if we were able to listen, really listen, hear and not let our prejudices get in the way, that we might find ourselves living in calmer times, less bloody times, less prejudiced times.

When I look back over the last two decades I can mark very clearly times when listening has been key.

There are trite times, when I was a young and excitable music journalist having to really listen to what artists were saying about in the interviews to try and portray accurately whatever mystical message they were trying to get across. It’s really good training on how to listen when you have to report back what has been said, when you not only have to hear the words, but understand the essence of what people are trying to get across.

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How to engage South African style


You can’t get solid experience without engagement.  That was the topic I  covered at  the South Africa / UK Communicator’s Breakfast, hosted by Lisa Wannell at the VMA Group HQ in London’s leafy Bedford Square.

Specifically, I shared insights from the recent #IABCafrica14 conference in Cape Town. The attendees at the VMA session were from a range of corporates; agencies; freelancers – and also a senior communicator with experience of the workings of the South African government.

You know A-Z but how about an S through A? Here’s a brief index of experience and engagement opportunities in S-O-U-T-H-A-F-R-I-C-A:

  • S – is for Social – and it is still growing – for example, 3m people are now on LinkedIn (vs. 17m for the UK) [for context, compare population counts of 52m vs 64m ].
    • Tip: if you’re looking to operate in South Africa, get ahead of the curve and be sure to have a social presence. The LinkedIn Executive Playbook may come in handy if you want to lead from the front.
  • U – is for Underground – who knew De Beers have coal mines too? (To be fair, they have a point: it is all carbon – some of it is just more dense).
    • Tip: more to the point, there are some real good practice gems out there to be picked up – not to mention an opportunity for yours to be recognised:

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How to become a better communicator through compassionate communication


Communication is based on stories. Often communication is about MY STORY: what happened to me, what I feel, and what I want. As an expatriate, my approach to communication was indelibly impacted by 8 years working and living in emerging and non-western countries. These are countries where I experienced absolute highs and lows, rare in the comfortable West, forcing me to consider how I really interact with people.

The expatriate experience magnifies what happens in our home country, but we normally can’t see it happening. As a result, I’ve been learning to take my experience and make my communication more compassionate wherever I live.

Compassion comes from the Greek “to love together with”. So Compassionate Communication is about talking alongside someone, rather than talking to them; about entering into their frame mind, rather than trying to get them into mine; about finding ways that we are the same, rather than different. It’s about ANOTHERS’ STORY and less about MY STORY.

Compassionate communication came to me as an expatriate because of:

  • Working alongside others who haven’t had the same education or experience, which helped me show rather than tell. The well-known quote says, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”
  • Learning new languages, which helped me see similarities rather than just differences. Goethe writes, “Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own”.
  • Experiencing new values, which helped me see those which overlap and influence mine. Martin Luther King Jr writes, “All persons are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality…. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”

Compassionate communication is about understanding more than being understood and loving more than being loved.

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New Era for Government, Media and Communication

Notes from Conference in Nicosia, Cyprus which discussed a New Era for Government, Media and Communication and was attended by the The President of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades.


The President of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, opened talking about the importance of communication in a democracy and that “an informed and active citizen is a better citizen”.






He was followed by the British High Commissioner, Ric Todd, talking about the role of effective government communication in public debate and discourse.

His best line: “good communication does not guarantee popularity, but bad communication guarantees unpopularity”.  This is a lesson many corporate managers can learn.

Mini-masterclasses in communication from Eleonora Gavrielides, the Director of the Cyprus Press and Information Office, and Alex Aiken, Executive Director for UK Government Communications. These expert professionals provided complementary perspectives on what it takes to deliver effective government communications. I can’t say I agreed with everything they said, but it was good to hear how governments are working hard to ensure effective communications with their key stakeholders.

Then some great additional perspectives from local and UK media, the Director of the Cyprus Media Community Centre, talking about the role of non-state actors in communication.

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Tackling a technical programme roll-out as change communicators

As a Change Communicator who has led communications on several technical roll-outs, when I’m reading job specifications, I always see the phrase – “must have the ability to translate complex technical information into easy to understand communication”.

I would expect that any communicator worth their salt would be able to do this – after all, it’s what we do day in, day out. But it got me to thinking about the specific communications challenges of technical programs and the best way to tackle them.

To make things easy, I have put together a few practical suggestions:


  1. Call IT Support. Utilise the technical team, the IT guys are great. They know the changes inside out and they want to communicate but they’re not always brilliant at it. Engage someone from the IT team on your communications team early on. They will be enthusiastic contributors, they’ll facilitate access to technical resources and help you make sense of a complex roll-out.


  1. Build a Champions League. If like me you’re often drafted in mid-rollout when things aren’t going so well and you need to turn things around quickly on your own – then you’re going to need to find support. With multi-site roll-outs you’re going to need people on the ground to host events, print posters and share information. Send out an appeal for volunteers to be champions or mentors of the change. Enlist one or more people per site or function and set up a regular call and cascade process with them. Each of your champions knows the specifics of their market or business and will ensure that your change is embedded properly.


  1. Expel the fear – Get hands on. Technology is one of the most feared types of change. People assume that they’re not going to be able to use it and panic that they won’t be able to do their work in the way that they are used to. Hold open events staffed by IT experts where employees can go and try out the new system before it is installed so their fear is alleviated.


  1. Sell the benefits. If you manage communications over a phased roll out, start to capture key benefits and good news stories early on. Video clips, podcasts and news stories showing practical examples of how others have benefited from the change will build confidence and even excitement around the change.


  1. Train to Gain. Make sure that there is adequate training in place. Often software upgrades are installed without any instructions on how to use the new system. Power users won’t have any trouble, but mere mortals are going to find the process of finding out how to perform their usual tasks frustrating, time-consuming and stressful. Short online modules and quick how-to guides will take most of this pain away as well as reduce helpdesk calls.


  1. Call for back-up. Last but not least , visible back-up is required. Even with the smoothest transition, individual problems during implementation will surface.  Have plenty of floor walkers on site and give everyone a card with the support number, email and website address.


There will always be specific issues with technical roll-outs and you should tailor your strategy to match the audience, but I hope the points above will give you practical ideas about how to make the transition smoother and less stressful for everyone involved.

Theresa Stinson

I’m always happy to discuss communications, so if you have any specific communications challenges, then reach me via LinkedIn

Post written by Theresa Stinson, Senior Change Communications Consultant