Monday, February 09, 2009

"Yes" is the New "No"

Each day I watch President Obama with continued fascination. There are certainly a lot of things to find fascinating in today's world. But, as a communications professional, it is clear that all of us have a lot to learn from our new President.

There are layers of nuances in the way the President communicates. But the single biggest lesson that we can all take away is one the nearly all of us know already and just don't practice. Rule number 1 of communicating is: be inclusive; if you can keep people listening, you have a much better chance of getting your message across.

Let's look at a few recent examples:

1. The big one recently was when Tom Daschle removed himself from consideration as Health and Human Services Secretary. Instead of being defensive, President Obama quickly said "yes, I screwed up." The issue nearly became a non-story and we could move back to the big issues at hand.
2. We are also seeing this technique in the President's dealings with Iran and the Arab world. He has expressed toughness but at the same time went first to an Arab TV station and has openly said we will talk.
3. And with the Labor Unions, which will undoubtedly need to make concessions to help keep the economy progressing, Obama said "We will work with you." Rather than "get with it and lower your expectations." They will become part of the solution through this, rather than part of the resistance.

Daily we see more examples of this very astute communications approach -- it is clearly innate to the President's view of the world. It underscores that, in addition to the other rather wholesale changes happening today, we are returning to a time of candor and what I hope is a "win-win" approach to communicating.

What does this mean to technology start ups? Here are a few takeaways:

1. Start ups are often trying to do what President Obama has been trying to do: change the way people think. Communicating early and often is most effective.
2. Be inclusive in your communications; rather than negative. Try to find a way to get everyone to be a part of the transition/solution.
3. In response to criticism and challenges, acknowledge them and move forward rather than fighting against them.
4. Always remember, "Yes is the new No."

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