The future of communication in a era of (dis)information

Aristotle in Rhetoric argued, “Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker [ethos]; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind [pathos]; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself [logos]. Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible.”

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

While discussing communication, we see that those words still hold true. We need to have credible speakers (source), have to establish an emotional connection with the audience (recipient), and have to have a compelling argument (message). The challenge of the future, therefore, has little to do with the process of communication (source-message-recipient) but with the era that we are living in today. With “newer” channels of information (from apps, such as whatsapp, to blogs, to social media from twitter, facebook, youtube, reddit, instagram), that enhances potential barriers (noise) such as claims of “fake news”, the distrust in the “other”, tribalization, and a negative attitude towards facts or science, how can we effectively communicate to be understood?

Better yet, how to communicate responsibly, effectively, and with impact? This is truly important as we think about the influence that leaders have on individuals. Whether leaders communicate with individuals face to face, virtually, or in a large talk, there are key things that will be important for them to remember:

Credibility (impressions do matter, but so does authenticity)

A certain way to lose our credibility is to be perceived as fake. In this day in age, we see too much of the claim individuals don’t believe someone because that person is fake or not genuine. In fact, we have been surrounded by the concept of authenticity in the past few years; from the theory of authentic leadership to research in brand authenticity to discussion from the past American election that Hillary isn’t authentic enough. Having a leader (source) be authentic is important because it can create a sense of trust and connection with others. We also do know that to be credible we need to manage our own image. So, we need to look the part and speak the part, as an organization is a theater. Navigating through this paradox of looking the part (what is expected from others) to also being authentic (being your true self) is one of the key challenges of being an effective communicator in this day in age.

Content (careful with (dis)information)

Which information to trust? It is so easy in this era to pick and choose arguments to make our case or agenda. We have access to so much information that we can pretty much argue any case. Individuals have become masters on straw man fallacy, on misquoting or misinterpreting sources, or even flat out lying. Last year, the term “alternative fact” was coined and it illustrates perfectly this point. At the same time that it is easy to make your case by picking and choosing, it is also important to remember that others can easily disprove or challenge your case. So, selecting carefully your sources, citing them, making sure that you are disclosing the caveats of all of the information ensures that we are covering our basis and allow us to keep our credibility intact.

Connection (power of words, and ethics)

Words do matter. Leaders have the power and ability to influence individuals. How leaders use these words should be considered carefully. Charismatic leadership scholars have longed debated on the dark side of charisma. When there is power, there is responsibility and leaders should strive to be conscientious of what they say and use their words ethically, morally, and responsibly. This is easier said than done, as there is no simple discussion on ethics and morality without a clear understanding of the context. Keeping their credibility intact by focusing on the content of what they say may be easier if you are dealing with a homogeneous group of people. As the world is more diverse, leaders should be sensitive of this fact and make sure their message is not excluding key individuals or even worse, alienating others.

The tree “C”s described above help us understand how to be effective communicators in this era of (dis)information.

Professor Joana Story

Joana Story is an Assistant Professor of Management at Nova SBE. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska- Lincoln. Her research has been published in journals such as Human Resource Management, International Journal of Human Resource Management, Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, Journal of Leadership Studies, among others. She also has presented her work in a variety of international conferences. She has taught a variety of classes at University of Nebraska and at Nova and currently teaches Global Human Resources Management, Cross-Cultural Management, and Corporate Social Responsibility. She also collaborates with the Angola Business School and is a member of Nova Africa Center for Business and Economic Development. She has received a teaching award at University of Nebraska.

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