Wednesday, November 14, 2012

They Are Laughing At Us. That's Bad.


Screenshot from Kindergarten Cop via The Kazan Times

Everybody has moments in life when things feel totally out of control. And that makes us feel upset. We like to have our lives in order.
It's odd because if you look back over your life, isn't "out of control" actually the norm? And unexpected disasters could have been expected?
When things go smoothly it's probably then that we should be shocked.
The Yiddish saying "Man plans, G-d laughs" pretty much sums it up.
It's starting to feel a bit like that right now. We've got a hotly contested election and a bitter, angry, frustrated public. Sequestration looms. Beltway is in gridlock. And scandal.
But all of this is not the worst thing. If you've been around D.C. for any length of time you've seen it all before, and then some.
The worst thing - what concerns me as a government communicator - is that the public seems to be laughing at us. 
I don't have any data to prove this.
But if you watch the news, and listen to people talk, there is a kind of incredulousness in their voices. Like,
"This is crazy."
"I've never seen anything like it!"
"You can't make this stuff up."
We in D.C. tend to take ourselves pretty seriously, and think that nobody ever questions us. But they are questioning us all the time.
Rampant mistrust is bad enough. We are used to that, too.
But laughing? That takes mistrust to a whole other level.
Laughing means they take for granted that we are incompetent. That's a bad perception for government to have.
It isn't fair, and it isn't true, but I think it might be out there.
We could argue back and forth about what the data shows, if anything. But in the meantime it's probably a good idea to think about government communication in the context of changing public perceptions.
If in the past we needed to loosen up a bit to keep up with the social media times, now we probably have to get a bit more stuffy. Back to the basics...recapturing the image we needed to keep all along - reliable, trustworthy, safe.
Probably fewer video contests and experimental pilots, and more simple data-rich information provision. More frequent press conferences. More substantive FAQs. Back to the basics.
If they are laughing, we shouldn't ignore it, but do our best to win back the public's trust.

*As always, all opinions are my own.

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