The case for positive communications | Brunswick Group

The case for positive communications

One of the most famous stories ever told is how Adam and Eve, who lived a carefree existence in the Garden of Eden were expelled by God and condemned to fight for their own survival on Earth.

While there are many subtleties and interpretations to that story (I am no theologist), looking at it from a communication standpoint, it is striking that God (probably because it is God) did not communicate why the forbidden fruit must not be eaten. The warning for this act of disobedience, God said to Adam, is that he would surely die.

On the other hand, consider how the serpent lured Eve into eating the apple - with positive messages: her and Adam’s eyes would be opened, all knowledge would become accessible, it would be easy for them to make the distinction between good and evil. Temptation came as a series of positive messages that convinced the first man and woman to act against what they knew would have terrible consequences for them.

The demise of Adam and Eve is a rather counter-intuitive example to argue for positive communications, yet it illustrates so well how, faced with danger or risk, positive and constructive communication are key to winning over your target audience. A simple “Don’t do it” or “Warning – danger!” from whatever authority is unlikely to bring many on board, let alone engage them. As we all know, it is more likely to create the opposite reaction, just because it’s forbidden.

Fast forward to how it can be applied in today’s world, one of the many significant risks organisations face is a cyber attack. It is tempting (and often done) to communicate in a prescriptive way, such as “Don’t click on the link!” or with a warning that the consequences of a hack may be dreadful. Although that is very true, cybersecurity campaigns have better results by creating a sense of responsibility and active participation (such as forwarding a dodgy email to the IT team for them to block the sender), and by focusing the message on what to do to prevent a successful attack. In addition, outside of the workplace, employees can benefit from their own cyber security. Using engaging, constructive communications in such situations can win employees over and be transposable.

Another topical issue we’re reminded of regularly is climate change. In a world where its effects are increasingly prescient, scientists at the IPCC have considered a shift in their communication strategy with a more positive set of messages focused on action instead of drawing attention to their scientific authority. Decades of alerting on the dire effects of rising carbon emissions have left many feeling powerless and passive, waiting for the unavoidable consequences of an ever more turbulent climate. We all know the danger of global warming, let’s focus instead on what can be done at all levels: individuals, communities, businesses, governments and international institutions alike.

In that regard, the way people often communicate about abating climate change is also telling: when we adopt behaviours that are more protective of the environment, we often claim that we’re saving the planet. At the end of the day, we know that we’re trying to ultimately save ourselves, however by adopting a more positive labelling of our actions as being selfless, we hope to gain acknowledgement from others and bring them along with us. Positive communication when dealing with risk or danger helps build trust, engagement and gives a better chance of a positive outcome.

Pierre Vinsot, Account Director, Brunswick Creative.