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When values colour your perspective….

What values underpin your actions and words?

Recently I attended rallies supporting the release from detention of asylum seekers who have come by boat to Australia. This particular group of 120 men made it out of offshore detention on Manus Island only to find themselves locked in hotel rooms in Brisbane, Australia. Several men are in one small room together with security guards stationed outside in case they try to leave; meals are delivered; and they are separated from children, spouses, and the community. These men are refugees who have escaped harm, not criminals.

The issue of detaining asylum seekers indefinitely has relied heavily on a combination of silence and ignorance. The silence is easy if media is forbidden access to refugees, who are locked away from sight; and ignorance is enabled by a dominant political narrative that frames asylum seekers as ‘illegal’.

I have challenged these facts with many people over the years, sometimes to be met with a sense of disbelief: “No, our Government would not do that.” There is a perception there must be guilt attached somewhere, despite no terrorist attack or threat being connected to these asylum seekers. Mud seems to stick.

The current rallies follow a groundswell of renewed enthusiasm for racial rights in the wake of the US ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign. I feel heartened by the fact that protesters are unusually persistent, attracting more than the usual numbers, while peaceful. Supporters are stationed outside the complex housing the refugees, blockading the efforts of security police to forcibly move them to another, more remote, detention facility.

As I looked at the chalked graffiti on the walls, I recalled all the talk of ‘grey areas’ – the debate around border security versus refugee rights. I understand this conversation less and less as time goes by because the values that I live by become increasingly clearer. This doesn’t mean I can’t be strategic (my profession relies on it) but a values focus does tend to take care of that ‘grey’.

Renowned psychologist, Shalom Schultz (great name right!) published a list of universal values – as ideal categories – seen to drive human behaviour. The truth is they motivate us much more than we may like to think when it comes to taking a perspective on complex social issues.

If you value universalism (in relation to human dignity) and benevolence as a priority, this will lead you down a different path to someone who is prioritising traditionalism, power, and conformity. The latter is likely to rail against any changes to the status quo; or could lead you to define security as who you keep out, above who you might protect.

When I think of concepts like ‘freedom, faith, and humanity’ – written on that graffiti wall – I realise values can be black and white in a good way. A human issue is unlikely to see resolution until enough people value human lives consistently and above all.

When you are communicating for change, remember not only your own values, but those of others around you. Is there a common language you may be able to draw upon? Next time you find yourself debating the so called ‘grey matter’ in between the facts, try talking values. It has a way of washing the grey away and a human issue will become solvable.

Begin with the End in Mind

One of the first goals for running a program or campaign is to achieve clarity about your objectives, or more specifically, the end you have in mind.

Any organisation looking for closer engagement from their stakeholders should be clear on what they are asking them to do. Complicit stakeholder behaviour could range from making a purchase to becoming a member, participating in a campaign, or signing a petition. 

What behaviour or action are you looking for?

Too many ideas or a lack of clarity will make it impossible to identity your target audience and answer key questions around project design. This is why we say ‘begin with the end in mind’. 

When you are clear on what you want your audiences to do, what behaviour you are looking for, you will be ready to explore four very important questions which will help you design your project:

  1. Who are our target stakeholders and are they a unified or diversified group? (E.g. a grassroots campaign may involve several audiences).
  2. What are the common values shared between them and your organisation, translated into language or messaging?
  3. What communication sources could we use to reach our target audience? (E.g. social media, mass media, community events, etc).
  4. What timing is involved in reaching this objective? (E.g. a longterm goal might involve changing hearts and minds, versus ‘low hanging fruit’ – motivating stakeholders positioned and ready to act.)

These questions relate to identification of: target stakeholders; shared values; effective communication options; and key timeframes. 

From this starting point, planning will be smoother. So be focused and begin with the end in mind!

Why choose MDC?

Learn how I help organisations expand or deepen community / stakeholder support by tapping into shared values… and what this has in common with digging wells.

We Are Born Storytellers

A born communicator is not the same as an excellent speaker or writer. It is a natural storyteller, and the research says that’s all of us. We look for a story appealing to our hearts as well as minds, not a list of facts.

That means organisational communication is a form of storytelling. 

The takeaway?

LESSON 1 – Tell a good story

It doesn’t matter if it’s an annual report, speech, or media release – it is a story. 

A good story includes: a clear topic, purpose (mission or objective), flow, and characters (businesses, organisations, CEOs, clients, customers, volunteers, supporters, and beneficiaries). 

A story designed to motivate should include a clear call to action. Do you want your stakeholders to make a change or encourage new supporters to join your campaign? Suggest how the audience can respond.

LESSON 2 – A ‘social good’ story reflects shared values

When you are communicating a social good, people are thinking beyond activities and products. They are thinking about ‘who they are’ or want to be. You are not only promoting values, you need to communicate the values your stakeholders will connect with. 

What motivates your target audience? 

Shared values are often assumed but hard to nail. Simple evaluation products can help.

The good news is, if you communicate the right values, stakeholders are more likely to be loyal over the long term.

LESSON 3 – A good story is heartfelt, but not negative

It is easy to focus on ‘severity’ when communicating about social problems like environmental degradation, homelessness or refugees. If this is overdone, audiences can be left feeling heavy or overwhelmed. They need to know their support can make a difference. 

Negative emotions trigger initial responses, but drain us over time if they aren’t dealt with. A good story inspires positive emotions. ‘Hope’ motivates action.

LESSON 4 – Your content must be credible

Facts and arguments are incredibly useful. It’s one thing to tell a good story, but let’s face it, you can write fiction. Credibility comes from being convincing; including reliable sources; and having a trustworthy storyteller. Boost credibility by using research, credentials (CEO / organisation / facilitators), evidence, and visual / audio data.

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

George Bernard Shaw

LESSON 5 – Stakeholders have their own stories

A common problem is untested assumptions about stakeholders. It is natural to develop a sense, over time, of who supporters and stakeholders are. This can lead to ‘types’ e.g. advocate and opponent, wealthy philanthropist and deserving beneficiary, and fixed customer profiles. 

As we communicate to these ‘types’ – neglecting the importance of shared values – we can fail to understand real motivations for action, or expand our support base. 

Finally, different stakeholder groups often vary amongst themselves with levels of understanding your vision or mission. This is common in grassroots campaigns communicating complex social issues to diverse audiences. The more you understand stakeholder diversity, the more effectively you can tailor your strategy.

Please email me if you want to learn more about how to tell motivating stories!!