Blah blah blah. Wah wah wah wah wah (imagine the voice of Charlie Brown’s mother). Do you ever feel that way, too? I am overwhelmed almost daily by the avalanche of information that is sent my way and I find myself challenged with trying to sort out what is really important. Often I find myself tuning out either consciously or unconsciously. Why is this? Am I some sort of narcissist that only appreciates the sound of my own voice? I hope not. I’ve given trainings on improving listening skills so I’d be a pretty big flunky if that were the case.
Rather, I think it comes from an information overload. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. Our ability to communicate in various ways through electronic media – be it television, radio, websites, Facebook, LinkedIn, discussion boards, Twitter (or “the Twittah” as we say in Maine), etc. – has exploded at such an exponential rate that I often feel like just dismissing all of it because it’s too much to digest. It’s easy to just hit “delete” on most emails that seem unimportant or skip over any postings on social media that do not interest me. It’s easy to ignore what I don’t want to know. But then I risk missing out on the information I want to know about.
But it’s not just an issue of too much information that is the problem with electronic media. When you don’t have to look your audience in the face, it takes away the personal connection we have to the visual impact of our words on others. We can’t see their immediate reaction so we feel less responsibility for our actions. When we’re not immersed in a personal face-to-face communication, it’s easy to embellish or twist the truth to meet our own agenda or egos. And it’s also easy to misinterpret other people’s intentions.
How do we make communication interesting and meaningful without creating additional information overload? How do we gain the public’s trust and provide useful, tenable and relevant information to them? And how do we navigate through the immense amount of articles and reports available to keep up with the latest scientific findings?
Certainly digital media is a powerful force and a great way to reach an incredibly large audience in an incredibly short amount of time. But we have a responsibility to provide truthful and honest information. At ASWM, part of our mission statement says that we were established to “promote the application of sound science to wetland management efforts.” This means that we strive to provide objective information based on science in order to support rational and balanced policy and practice decisions.
I believe we can accomplish this by bridging professional silos, integrating programs, and having intelligent and thoughtful discussions with others involved in natural resource issues. I know that for myself, I am making an effort to use the good old telephone again more often. I have personally gotten to rely primarily on email for most of my communications, but I am finding it to be less and less useful. With so much spam, junk mail and marketing, I almost feel guilty clogging up someone’s email account with more stuff. And I know I’ll get a faster response and build better relationships if I just pick up the phone and engage someone in actual dialogue.
How can we build public trust and get our message heard? Through personal communication, collaboration and meeting folks face-to-face. Take the time to meet your stakeholders. Listen to people’s concerns before formulating your response. Be kind and respectful. Certainly electronic media has a place in any organization’s communication plan, but equally important is live, personal (but professional) communication.
I look forward to ASWM’s annual state/tribal/federal workshop each year because it provides me the opportunity to make those personal connections to folks working all over the country in various agencies with various responsibilities. We all come from different walks of life and have many different perspectives and opinions on many issues, but we all come together, even for just a day or two, and we learn from each other by finding common ground in wetland protection. So For Peat’s Sake, let’s try for a more personal touch in our communications by listening, conversing, and taking the time to shake hands. Who knows what the ripple effect may be!