This past week, we had the valuable chance to watch a presentation from our Humphrey fellow Issa Napon on what it takes to communicate with diplomacy, tact and credibility. Although I’m not a diplomat, and I don’t necessarily intend to become one, I found the information incredibly useful for both my personal life and my life as a journalist.
In the journalism world, we’re taught that credibility is an important part of our job. We spend time learning how to make sources comfortable and willing to talk to us, and that’s not going to happen if we walk into an interview in a t-shirt and shorts. It’s certainly not going to go well if we continue to cut our sources off when they’re talking or ask unrelated questions because we weren’t really listening to what they said.
Being a journalist requires a heightened sensitivity to the situation and the information at hand. Without our ability to adapt to circumstances, and present a professional image, our jobs would be fairly impossible.
Issa shared with us the importance of perception in the world of diplomacy. He emphasized the importance of “polishing” ourselves, both in our outward appearance and in our ability to communicate successfully in the world we live in. Issa told us that good communicators know how they are perceived and can adapt to any situation. They’re flexible enough to deal with different situations. In many ways, it seems that the role of journalist and the role of diplomat coincide in these respects.
What struck me the most was a fact Issa shared with us: Most people are only 25 percent effective at listening. How is it possible that so many jobs in this world rely on effective communication skills, and yet so many lack a basic ability necessary to effective communication?
I don’t think that very many journalists would be able to really do their jobs without the ability to listen. We need to be able to hear what people are saying and know what it means. We need to listen so carefully that we know what’s missing, what’s going unsaid and what’s being avoided in our conversations with sources. Clearly, listening is an integral part of being a successful journalist.
I may not be a diplomat, but it sounds like us journalists have a lot in common with the world of diplomacy. What other similarities can you find?