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Leadership: The Immigration Bill–A Failure to Communicate

First, I have no opinion about the just-failed/just-revived immigration bill. Truth is, I didn’t understand it well enough to have an opinion. I didn’t understand it because it was never properly explained. I wanted to understand it, but did not have the time to research it. And, anyway, who can be trusted to give an unbiased explanation? I was hoping that one of the bill’s many champions would take pity on us poor citizens and explain it. That did not happen.

First, I have no opinion about the just-failed/just-revived immigration bill. Truth is, I didn’t understand it well enough to have an opinion. I didn’t understand it because it was never properly explained. I wanted to understand it, but did not have the time to research it. And, anyway, who can be trusted to give an unbiased explanation? I was hoping that one of the bill’s many champions would take pity on us poor citizens and explain it. That did not happen. This is amazing to me because it seemed that for the month or so leading up to its initial failure, no one was talking about anything else. Now, all we hear is that it’s back on, going to happen, but I still know nothing more about it than I did before.

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It’s odd, really. Because without a proper and easy-to-digest explanation the first time around, the rumor mill went into overdrive until it was impossible to know what was fact and what was fiction. Many citizens thought they did understand it, rose up in protest, made their calls to their representatives in Congress and paralyzed the legislation. But it seems to me that it’s déjà vu all over again. The news is the bill has been changed, adjusted to address certain concerns. Maybe it’s better and maybe it’s worse. I just don’t know.

It does not have to be this way. This is what happens when the people responsible for pitching an idea (President Bush and members of Congress) are so immersed in the details of the idea, over such a long period of time, that they forget the people that they are pitching to know virtually nothing about it. Or, they don’t care whether we understand or not (I shudder to consider that possibility).

We’ve all been guilty of this type of tunnel vision. It happens to me all the time; I must constantly resist the temptation to assume that everyone in the world knows what I’m talking about. I live, breathe and eat what I do. My work is second nature to me. Therefore, it is difficult for me to imagine that it is not second nature to others.

It is a common communication faux pas and one that repeatedly comes up when I work with my clients. Often, I will observe them using the acronyms, slang and other shorthand that only insiders know, when they are pitching ideas to their clients or potential clients. When this happens, eyes start to glaze over which is bad enough. But what also happens in such cases is that the people who don’t understand fail to ask for clarification for fear of appearing uninformed or stupid. The lack of dialogue and interactivity that could be used to enliven communication, build relationships and ultimately lead to money changing hands, instead leads to misunderstanding or worse, a decision not to do business at all!

I tell my clients when they are pitching something to their clients, they must put whatever they’re speaking about into common terminology. Don’t assume they already know. Don’t worry about talking down or insulting someone’s intelligence. The rule is that the least knowledgeable person in the room, whose agreement is essential to the project’s success, must understand what is being discussed. They shouldn’t have to work too hard to understand it, either. That in itself is an unnecessary distraction.

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So, if someone out there in the President’s office or the U.S. Congress is listening, please, PLEASE explain the immigration bill to us. We need to understand it. Otherwise, you can expect the phones to start ringing again and maybe, probably kiss this one goodbye, too.

Ruth Sherman • Ruth Sherman Associates, LLC • Greenwich, CT • ruth@ruthsherman.comwww.ruthsherman.com

About the author

Ruth Sherman, M.A., is a strategic communications consultant focusing on preparing business leaders, politicians, celebrities, and small business entrepreneurs to leverage critical public communications including keynote speeches, webcasts, investor presentations, road shows, awards presentations, political campaigns and media contact. Her clients hail from the A-list of international business including General Electric, JP Morgan (NY, London, Frankfurt), Timex Group, Deloitte and Dubai World.

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