Authentic Communication Builds Trust

“The trouble with quotes from the Internet is that you never know if they are genuine.” Abraham Lincoln

Chuck Becker, an e-communication consultant who now works with NSPRA, shared the above quote with me the other day. He knows that I enjoy using quotes to help tell a story, and he certainly hit the credibility nail on the head when it comes to using Internet sources. (Of course, I guess there could be a number of current people who are named Abraham Lincolns.)

Misusing quotes is just one credibility problem. Here are a few other problems we see happening more often than in the past:

  • Too often, it seems that some people cherry-pick the jewels of an article and use them, out of context, to help them make their point. Or they glean information from an Internet source without even confirming original sources or worse yet, without checking who funded the reported article or study. Before we start using information because it is a great fit for our persuasive articles, we need to do our best to learn its origin and funding sources.

For example, a survey of a taxpayer’s revolt group may only ask leading and biased questions about cutting the budget without ever asking residents whether they feel that paying a bit more to save their child’s programs would be a choice for them and their community. We see too many seemingly “overnight” organizations that are created to hide the funders and influencers about issues.

As a precaution, it is always appropriate to ask about the funding of these organizations (follow the money) and what the original survey questions were as well as the survey methodology to help you understand how credible the work really is. Now in a democracy, anyone has the right to give their opinions. It is the media’s role to check the truth of people’s rhetoric and point out discrepancies, but media’s budget cuts have diminished the “watchdog” roles of the past. It is now up to leaders like NSPRA’s members to point out what’s real and credible for their constituents.  It can be a tricky, shadow-boxing move to step into these rather political situations, but the truth needs to be told and your leadership team needs to feel empowered to do it.

  • The second example deals with school leaders establishing and maintaining trust with their staff and key publics. Many studies and reports give guidance, but my recommendation for the best recent treatment is The Speed of Trust, The One Thing That Changes Everything, by Stephen M.R. Covey. (By the way, Stephen M.R. is the son of Stephen R. Covey of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People fame.)

The book is a blueprint of setting values, building relationships at all levels, and walking the talk when it comes to core values of your leaders and organization. In our work in school communication, it naturally converts to the face-to-face and engagement tactics of building trust with community leaders, parents, and staff.

The book also answers the question of gaining trust back once you’ve lost it. It can be done, but it’s a long, uphill road. Two quotes by both Coveys help paint that picture:

“You can’t talk yourself out of a problem you’ve behaved yourself into.”   Stephen R. Covey

“No, but you can behave yourself out of a problem you’ve behaved yourself into … and often faster than you think!”     Stephen M.R. Covey

The real bottom line of the trust issue deals with the behavior of your leaders at all levels (superintendency, school board, principalship, teacher association and other employee groups, etc.) and whether they have developed a culture of mutual trust in your system. Communication is the ingredient needed to help create that culture of trust.

All your critical constituents need to know your system’s values and what they stand for in the everyday operation of your schools. The behavior of your leaders showcased by effective communication should remind your constituents that your district is the one to trust when it comes to the education of all children in your community.  Without authentic responsible communication, the Internet will once again fill the void created by school leaders who do not communicate on a regular, credible and strategic basis.

Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

Explore posts in the same categories: accountability, Communication, Education, school communication, school PR, Uncategorized

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