Are you also sick of all the never ending “spin” and propaganda around us? However, when you (selectively) need to use it yourself, how good are you at leveraging it for your benefit?
Managing Spin (Audio)
How well do you manage spin? Are you able to recognize it and see through it? Do you still sometimes “fall for it”? How well are you able to subtly and cleverly use spin to further your outcomes? How clear is the dividing line for you?
It’s propaganda, isn’t it?
Spin is a form of propaganda achieved through providing an interpretation of an event or campaign to persuade opinion in favour or against a certain organization, public or individual figure. While traditional public relations may also rely on creative presentation of the facts, “spin” can often, though not always, imply disingenuous, deceptive and/or highly manipulative tactics.
I believe that the corporate visibility necessary for our success in business today requires a balance between those two perspectives. Whilst never condoning deception, it is becoming more and more necessary to “push ourselves into the limelight” and when there to present ourselves in the best possible light. I believe this is best achieved when it is accompanied by substance; by deeds and outcomes rather than attempting just to “being seen to” be doing something about it.
We have been squabbling with our investment property managers for a while now about how well they represent our interests. One of our main grumbles is their use of spin instead of doing what their spin actually suggests they (should) do. We are tired of hearing what they pride themselves on and that they have policies that make them do certain things in certain ways. But then having to highlight for them time and again where they have fallen down by not delivering on those things – often at our expense.
I remember in the late 60’s at the old Roy Hesketh Circuit in Natal, where my friends and I spent quite some time passionately supporting and following local club motorsport to hear the facetious comment: “if it doesn’t go, chrome it” suggesting that if the car or bike wasn’t fast enough, at least it looked good and captured attention.
I have worked with a lot of clients on their Visibility both within their organizations as well as outside of them in the broader public domain. It is an inevitable part of any individual business success today. We can no longer rely on just our “results speaking for themselves”. We need to promote ourselves, and as hard as that appears for some people, in order to “get ahead” it has become necessary to “blow one’s own trumpet” more and more when the right opportunities or situations present themselves.
Of course we will use “spin” in such situations in order to further their cause and present or position them in the best light we can. So where is the difference between what is is acceptable and what isn’t?
Recognizing and filtering spin and propaganda
Not always easy to do. As a CIO I did a lot of buying of technology, solutions and services, often on pretty large scales. I was obviously more wary of “pitches” where there was no track record or experience of having done business together beforehand. This applied to both the organisation, but just as often to the individuals involved. Being presented with a string of new account managers often told a story of continuity, respect, competence or relative importance placed on that relationship.
Did what they have to say have substance, or was it coloured with jargon intended to impress and perhaps manipulate or even mislead? How could we check that out? What other similar clients to ourselves had already successfully implemented the solution being pitched at us was always a useful measure. Their willingness or not to refer such conversations was also often telling.
Of course sometimes we were the first to try a new solution, in which case the negotiations recognized that and the vendors usually were more willing to “come to the party” to make the newness worth our while. Establishing trust and respect would then play a larger part in those discussions, and needed to be based on broader examples of a trustworthy track record of the individuals or other aspects of the business.
Particularly in such situations outcomes were often based on the vendor’s ability to back up “spin” with more tangible facts or be more open about the risks.
Was there a track record of doing what they said they would? Remember The Trust Triangle where we spoke of your track record of always delivering what you said you would, helping to build your image that you are trustworthy and to be trusted? That a referral from a trusted partner enhanced the value of the referral over one you were not sure of? Trusted partners don’t have to use spin. Neither do trusted referrals have to rely on it as much.
I think this is one reason why relationships are so important in business. Think about it: how little spin does there need to be when you have developed a relationship that is based on Trust and Respect?
In our work together, most of my clients have learned the power and value (and dare I say the technique) of “active listening with all our senses”. I give a taste of that in Are you listening?. This enables us to hear not only what is being said, but also how it is being said and more importantly what isn’t being said. Your intuition and your experience will often help you see through spin.
We’ve all heard the cliché: “actions speak louder than words”. I would test their being “fair dinkum” as much as I could by exploring examples or situations where they had demonstrated their creativity, willingness and ability to “come to the party” for their clients.
But there is a difference between this and “blatant spin”.
Politicians don’t use propaganda, do they?
Politicians have a reputation of avoiding or not answering the question – but to rather just focus on putting their spin on the topic, thinking how elegantly they have sidestepped the issue. Don’t you hate that when watching them live or on television?
We usually deal with intellectually clever people – how stupid do they think we are? Please forgive the generalization, but I have developed a healthy distrust of politicians and often find their “spin” disrespectful of those that elected them to represent our interests. (Sorry did I say our or their interests?)
Of course we want to position ourselves in the best possible light that we can. Which includes the use of spin. And of course we will use our rapport and other techniques to further our influence, including remembering WIIFM (What’s In It For Me).
But how can we use spin to position ourselves favourably without falling into the traps I have criticized above?
Certainly having a positive and a constructive attitude is a good place to start. Having relevant examples or references of having delivered what we said we would is just as important.
Whilst our personality differences sometimes highlight a fine line between acceptable spin and rhetoric, I believe it is important that we “be who we are” and not try to be “someone or something else”.
However, why not try to practice Finding the Edge and “have a go” at applying more spin than your “normal” personality would allow and seeing where the “boundary is” for you. Try stepping out of your comfort zone and “push the envelope” in new or different situations and see how you are received. This includes experimenting with new words or phraseology and “fine-tuning” your choice of relevant words that best position or support your “pitch”. Maybe you alert someone you know and trust ahead of doing so and ask them for feedback afterwards. That way you can “polish” what worked and what didn’t so you can come across more comfortably next time.
Our image is built over time and it is only ever expanded by taking some bolder steps from time to time.
I’m enjoying Sir Richard Branson’s autobiography at the moment and while I’m sure everyone will agree that he is not shy of pushing himself into the limelight and blatantly using spin when he needed to, he has backed up everything he ever said or “bragged about” by the most incredible actions – putting his life on the line many times to “push the envelope” in what he believed in. An Extraordinary Life indeed!
So what if you reflected on your month thus far, or on last month, and reminded yourself of:
- Examples of where you could have used spin to promote yourself, but didn’t. What could you do next time such an opportunity presents itself? How will you remind yourself to remember? What will a good outcome look like to you?
- Examples of where you applied spin to sensibly promote yourself. How did they go? What worked? What didn’t? What could you do better next time such an opportunity presents itself?
What if you kept this “front of mind” for the coming month and even asked someone you trusted to give you feedback of where you could have or where you did and how they thought it went?
What if you got this to work better for you, and you found the fine line between subtlety and excessive spin and it helped you improve your image and your influence and your visibility? Wouldn’t that be valuable for you?
What if you could?