I was on jury duty last week. Apart from it being an interesting experience as a new citizen, it was a great lesson in the importance of how we choose to communicate and which stories we choose to tell.
During the trial, the same incident was retold by multiple different people, each with his or her unique perspective and purpose in mind. Each carefully picked the words they used and the details included or left out. As jury members, we had to sift through these different versions to come up with a plausible truth. Not unlike the reading of the tea leaves that employees sometimes go through with conflicting corporate messages …
The factors that made one witness more compelling than another also apply when we’re creating communications material. We, the jury, found it easier to believe the witnesses who were brief and to the point, whose points were consistent and calmly made, and whose stories hung together in a convincing whole. We were less inclined towards witnesses who prevaricated or inserted irrelevant details into the story, or who just couldn’t stick to the point. Where there was fluff or contradictory messages, we were suspicious and more likely to look into the holes and draw our own conclusions. Sound familiar?
I’m not suggesting for a moment that corporate communications have the same life or death consequences as the stories told during a criminal trial, but it does highlight how the principles for good storytelling are ingrained in us. I was the only communications professional on the jury, but all of us were examining the different versions in similar ways. Did we find the facts made sense? Did we think it made a convincing explanation? What language made us suspicious, and what made us more trusting? Employees are subjecting every piece of information they hear to the same kind of scrutiny. As communicators, we have to be sure our stories stand up in court.