K Street Newsletter :: Directions

October 2019    |    VOLUME 17, ISSUE 10

Humor in Communications

Much has been written about the importance of storytelling in communication. If you can wrap your message in some kind of narrative, people will find it easier to understand and be more likely to remember it. It also demonstrates that you really understand something yourself, if you can tell a story about it. Knowledge is narrative, as David Weinberger says.

Perhaps overlooked is the fact that humor delivers the same kind of payoff. If you can approach a topic in an amusing way, and engage with an audience's sense of humor, you can break down barriers and establish confidence and trust. If you do it well, people will even repeat your communication to others. We talk about things going viral on the Internet, but few things spread more quickly than a good joke. That was true before the Internet, too.

At many companies, corporate communications (especially internal communications) is pretty much a comedy wasteland. It tends to be dry, word-heavy and self-satisfied, utterly lacking in punch lines. The tone betrays a deep lack of confidence, and reinforces an us-vs-them culture. Adding humor to the mix can make communications more honest and approachable. There's a good TED talk on this, in which writer Chris Bliss considers how comedy can communicate complex ideas to a mass audience. In fact, one study found that people who got most of their news from The Daily Show were better informed than people who relied on certain traditional news sources.

A KM Primer

If you work in Knowledge Management, one of the real head-scratchers is trying to understand why the discipline has remained frozen in time for 20 or so years. When KM was young, you'd expect that people would spend time working out the basic concepts. There would be presentations seeking to define the essence of Knowledge, and overview pitches on core principles, strategies, benefits and so forth. We made quite a lot of them ourselves, in fact. It seemed like a genuinely new idea, and Gartner Group described it as an "emerging mega-trend." By now, the forecasts said, we should all be looking at the world through knowledge-colored glasses. KM would be everywhere, and automated systems would be mining those knowledge nuggets that form the foundation of our world.

It hasn't quite worked out that way. People are still publishing new papers that give an overview of Knowledge Management. The kind of overview that would fit in very well in a mid-90s context. Not that that's a bad thing, necessarily. Change takes time, and these more contemporary KM pioneers are all part of the same narrative. So if you're looking for a well written, reasonably comprehensive introduction, try this "blue paper" from the 4Imprint Group. Nicely done.


Street Smarts 192: Hold effective meetings.

It's ironic that in a world where there are more ways to communicate than ever before, failed communications still cause problems, inefficiency and angst. There are various ways to address communication issues, and lots of tips for writing better emails or setting effective boundaries. But since the highest-value communications are still face-to-face, it's a good idea to focus on making them more effective. A good meeting can resolve a lot of confusion that might be introduced in other channels.

Start by being clear on the meeting's objective and design the session to address that goal. The right design might be a three-minute chat with a single person, or a 30-minute session with a core team. Be sure to separate tactical conversations from strategic ones. If a strategic question comes up in a tactical meeting, put it in a parking lot to be addressed later. Shorter meetings are better than longer ones, and the best meetings leave all attendees with a sense that something was accomplished. An issue was resolved, a task assigned or an agreement reached. People complain about meetings because so often they seem like a waste of time. They don't have to be. You can find some more communication tips in this article.


Creating a Positive Company Culture

The role of company culture in an organization's success is widely acknowledged. Your culture is an amalgam of shared values, beliefs and attitudes, and influences how  your employees interact as work teams, communicate through email and deal with job stress. Company culture affects how you relate to your customers and has a direct bearing on the kind of candidates you can attract and retain. It's a big deal, even if it seems vague and diffuse. And you can't not have one, since an organization's culture naturally evolves as people work together. However, you can try to influence it in positive ways.

This article suggests that you start by laying out some core values. Something short and sweet that defines how you feel about your work now and incorporates your company's long-term goals. The odds are you've been a part of exercises like this in the past, and found that after the initial touchy-feely glow had faded, nothing really changed. So you have to find ways to reinforce your core values and remind people what they're about. Use them to emphasize the organization's goals, so that individuals can see how their day-to-day work is part of something larger. People who feel they're part of something important are much more likely to deliver their best work.

Subject Matter Experts

We've done a lot of consulting over the years, so we're very familiar with the idea of Subject Matter Experts, or SMEs for short. A SME is someone with deep knowledge of some topic or industry, usually based on years of experience. In putting together a proposal for a new HR system, you'd want analysts and designers and programmers on the team, but you'd also want one or more Human Resource SMEs who understood what the system really needed to deliver. In our experience, SMEs usually earn the title because of their individual career choices, but there's no reason companies can't work to groom their own SMEs in areas of strategic importance.

The idea is to recruit people to become experts in a particular tool, technology or skill. The SMEs are then responsible for passing on their knowledge to others, an exercise that helps them enhance their understanding. It's call the protégé effect and is a recognition that when you explain something to another person, you come to understand it better yourself. This article outlines a process for recognizing where SMEs might be useful and for finding good candidates to take on the role. Everyone is a subject matter expert for something.




Directions is an electronic newsletter about things related to KM & Communications, published on the second Wednesday of each month (check out the current issue above). It’s a double opt-in system, which means you’ll receive an email asking you to confirm that you really want it. Once you click on the link in that mail, you’ll be signed up. You can always unsubscribe using the same link (or by using the link provided in every issue). We will absolutely not give your address to any third parties. What are we, crazy?

If you like what you see in Directions, please pass it on. We try to keep it short, entertaining and useful, and are always interested in getting more subscribers.


Add my name to your subscriber list.

Email List Management by Ezine Director


Current Newsletter

  © 2019 KNOWLEDGE STREET LLC. All Rights Reserved.


Knowledge Street