Shut It Moment #1: When the Subject Calls for Experts . . . & You’re Not One

Big Fat Comms Diet Graphic 1With social media and so many internal and external channels, communications today can be like an all-you-can-eat-buffet for leaders. Quantity over quality. Our appetites get the better of us and before you know it, every random thought we have in our heads ends up on the communications plate. Without discipline, you can stuff yourself (and your audiences) nearly to death.

My Big Fat Communications Diet isn’t just about communicating less, it’s about communicating well, making better communication choices and working your communication muscles so you become a truly healthy communicator.

Shut it moment #1: When the subject matter calls for experts . . . and you’re not one.

By definition, an expert is a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of and/or skill in a particular area. In seriously complex areas such as science or health care you probably need at least a doctorate degree and a pile of letters at the end of your name to be most credible. If not, you better have impressive experience and knowledge in the subject matter before you open your mouth or craft a post. Even in this case you still need a squad of real, honest-to-goodness experts who can inform your thinking and support you.

Politics aside, a good example of this one is the rhetorical question “Who knew healthcare was so complicated?” This is the big time of shut it moments. Really? Oh, I don’t know, maybe the tens of thousands of people who are actual experts, people who work in and are dedicated to the field, people with real world experience, people who have achieved and have made relevant contributions to the care and wellness of human beings. Better to shut it than to blurt out a comment that looks a little ridiculous when you’re in a position of authority but clearly don’t have even a basic knowledge or understanding.

It may not be inherently stupid to make a shut it comment like this, but it sure isn’t smart.

Look at the result of the comment rather than the politics, likability of the person, or other related factors. Nothing positive happened. Nothing was moved forward. No agenda was served. It was a distraction and a withdrawal from the credibility bank account. Communications gluttony was served, that’s all.

A former CEO of a tech giant said in a USA Today interview prior to the launch of the Apple iPhone that it had “no chance” of getting “significant market share.” Huh? Certainly he was not a fortune teller. And apparently not an expert on mobile or smart phones. He also is no longer the CEO.

Perhaps a this was a bad luck moment. Nobody has a crystal ball so I guess it’s possible this could have gone either way. Or, maybe this was a little tech hubris gone awry. For sure, nobody in communications explained to this CEO that these things have a very, very long shelf life. The embarrassing moment never really goes away. Ultimately, it was a shut it moment.

An actress who started a lifestyle products company has seriously irked many credentialed experts in health and science because of the wacky advice and snake oil products that are promoted on the website. And rightfully so. Bras can cause cancer? Tomatoes are toxic? And ladies, you don’t want to know where they suggest you need to put an expensive jade egg to restore sexual balance. Yikes!

This isn’t just lack of expertise. This is something more, something pretty destructive. Cashing in on people’s fears by luring them into an illusion of wellness with junk ideas and no real evidence is wrong – really, really wrong. If you have no expertise in healthcare, science and wellness, learn something about it, get several degrees, hire legit experts or else shut it. Permanently.

It’s often smarter to stay quiet than to shoot your mouth off.

It should go without saying that communications should have a positive purpose and result. To avoid looking silly, or worse, looking like a charlatan, think before you speak when the situation calls for certain expertise that you might not possess. If for no other reason than this kind of pause gives the respect due to people who earned the degrees and have the experience to be called an expert. For our friends who are leaders of communications teams, please make sure you convince your organizations and the leaders within them to shut it when the moment commands it. Educate them to ask themselves at least one important question before they make a comment that could haunt them for years to come. Are you a bona fide expert? If the answer to that question is a negative or even the slightest bit shaky, do yourself a favor, take a breath and shut it. You’ll be better off (as will your agenda and your constituents).

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