There’s Still Time: Top Four New Year’s Resolutions for Better Communication
February 8, 2017 by Bill Rosenthal

Most of us have forgotten about our resolutions we made for ourselves when the ball dropped. So, let’s start fresh and resolve to be a better communicator, learning from 2016’s mistakes. The year 2016 was a big year for communication failures. They were many, varied, and costly. Here are my top four New Year’s Resolutions for better communication (hey—better late than never and these could really save you and your organization): 

For 2017, I resolve to…

…work against fear and resentment. 

It will probably take a long, long time to tally all the casualties and costs of Brexit, but I think even those who favored it would acknowledge that it represents a massive failure of communication. A majority of British voters were overwhelmed by a deadly combination of fear (of immigrants and of the loss of sovereignty) and resentment (of the country’s political elite), resulting in massive voter backlash. These feelings are no doubt very real, but given the damage that Brexit is likely to do to the British standard of living and the stability of international trade, they are not a sound basis for decision making. I may not be able to do much, but in my small corner of the world, in 2017 I am going to guard against fear and resentment in myself and try to recognize and oppose those who appeal to such feelings. 

…listen to criticism, even if it is painful or costly. 

In 2016, Wells Fargo settled a case brought by federal regulators over the widespread creation of fraudulent accounts by its employees. There is substantial evidence that the practice had been going on for some time and that it was repeatedly reported by employees to their managers. One of them apparently wrote multiple letters and messages to the bank’s CEO, John G. Stumpf, to complain about it. Regardless of whether Stumpf was involved in the fraud, he should have known that failing to respond to a tough message never makes the situation better.

…check my presentation, then check it again before giving it.

You might argue that all’s well that ends well, but in 2016 Melania Trump gave a speech to the Republican National Convention that quoted a previous speech by Michelle Obama without attribution. For days afterward, the media couldn’t seem to talk about anything but Mrs. Trump’s plagiarism. As it happened, the controversy doesn’t seem to have done lasting damage to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, but what an ordeal for the Trumps and the Republican Party. 

…proofread my messages before sending them.

Email is one the great blessings of modern life, but one of 2016’s biggest organizational disasters happened because an IT guy at the Democratic National Committee left out the word “not” so that his message seemed to approve a phishing message. As a result, the DNC servers were hacked and the party’s dirty linens were hung out for public inspection. We are all under a great deal of pressure, and we don’t have enough time to do what needs to be done. But next year, I resolve to make the time to go over all my messages and make sure they say what I mean to say before I send them.

I am sure I am not alone in thinking 2016 was a terrible year. A lot of bad stuff happened to a lot of people. That happens every year, but it seems to me that in 2016, communication failures made much of the bad stuff worse than it had to be. 

I am looking forward to 2017. What are your New Year’s Resolutions?