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February 2009

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MBC Director’s Memo – 2.09

As the child of public school teachers, I heard a lot of information about their work over dinner. My parents made it clear very early that none of these conversations were appropriate to share with others. This taught me a critical skill very early that has been essential in my career as a communicator for organizations.
Consider some reasons a professional communications person needs to learn when to acquire knowledge and keep it private.
The first may be obvious, but being trustworthy remains essential to the function of both internal and external communications. Comprehensive information becomes necessary for holistic and proactive communications strategy, crisis planning, and especially damage control. This means: sign the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) if you must to get in the boardroom, because without being in the midst of the situation you can’t advise senior management.
Also, being judicious with information means avoiding the rumor mills that thrive in every organization or market. It’s hard not to get caught up in the drama and disclose something you know, or think you know. However, a professional communicator should always: take a step back from the conversation; go to the source for concrete facts; and then help facilitate timely disclosure or clarification. While we can’t control the rumors, we can choose not to engage in the process.
Also, it doesn’t make me, or any communicator “special” or otherwise greater in status to be “in the know.” It makes us more valuable assets to the organization. Plus, genuine trustworthy character shows through when honest people actually disclose information that should be public.
So, whether you are a professional communicator or play some other role in your organization, consider the source and how you impact the rumor mill by passing along information or opinions. If the “word at the water cooler” seems like it could impact you directly, go to the source before passing anything along to others, and maybe even think twice before telling anyone else at that point.