For over 20 years, my communications career has been built on a foundation of clarity, consistency and positivity. I also believe that for communications to be truly effective, these three values must be underpinned by empathy. You need to understand where somebody is coming from if you are to make a lasting connection. I suppose, subconsciously, that is what I’ve been doing my whole life.
Since growing up in Zimbabwe and Botswana, I have gone on to live and work across four continents. With each new home, I always seek to understand the country’s culture and the people I meet. In response, I have found that I naturally change the way that I behave and communicate. Afterall, if you only communicate in a way that is good for you, you may not necessarily get through to the people you speak with.
This is why one of the first steps I take with my clients is to identify their audience. After the objectives of a project are agreed, I always ask: who are we talking to? How can we empathise with them? What are their motivations? And what do they need? Once these answers are established, you can begin to effectively communicate with clarity, consistency and positivity.
When communicating, it is essential to consider the way in which ideas are expressed. Take out the acronyms; rephrase those complex ideas and carefully consider your choice of language. It’s all about making messages easy to hear and widely accessible. That’s always been important for me.
I think consistency is a core part of communication. There is so much ‘noise’ – especially online – that at times it can be difficult to be heard. But if you’re consistent to brand and consistent as a person, you will come to be relied on for that. Consistency is the key to building trust with your audience and once it’s established, your message will come across much better.
I have always been an optimist – a glass half-full kind of person. I just think that there’s really no point in being negative! If what you say is true and factually accurate, I don’t see a problem with always accentuating the positive.
Positivity is more beneficial for communications. In my experience, negativity tends to dissuade people from engaging. However, when I read about the climate crisis – an issue with which we all must engage – negativity seems to prevail. In fact, all three of these values seem to be totally absent from general climate communications.
Communicating the climate
Firstly, climate communications are often unclear. Even among leading organisations, there are many conflicting definitions for terms such as ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘net zero’. With so much ambiguity, it is little wonder that people end up confused! I would like to see more consistency of language across climate communications.
I would also like to see ‘doom and gloom’ headlines replaced by more positive articles focused on climate solutions. Doom-mongering isn’t going to inspire action. If anything, it will make people despondent and encourage more ostrich-like behaviour.
I understand the need for digging into things critically and asking: is this true? But I feel that sometimes it is done to a point which is not helpful. I agree that you can never have a completely perfect solution, but I think that as long as you are realistic and transparent about where those imperfections lie, trying any solution available is always, fundamentally, a good thing.
Communication for climate action
Communication has a key role in driving climate action. Scientists and policymakers need people who are able to distil complex ideas into an accessible form which can be widely circulated and understood. At its best, communications can form a bridge between different perspectives, reduce polarisation and ultimately create a better way for people to engage with the current global challenges we face.