I have a one year old and a soon-to-be three year old, both boys. Juggling motherhood and work isn’t easy, but in a rare quiet moment last week, while staring at the mounds of dirty laundry and washing up, I started thinking about how much my role as a mother at home has actually taught me about my role at work. Communication is what we practice and preach and, in my experience, nothing tests your communication capabilities more than a tired toddler and a teething baby. So I’ve listed the top five things motherhood has taught me about communication:
1) Shared knowledge and learning:
When it comes to raising children everyone has their own methods, approaches and opinions. People love to give advice and tips, to share their experiences and make suggestions. This is (mostly) fine and (sometimes) gratefully received, but the wealth of conflicting information can be overwhelming and confusing. The same can be true of communications, everyone has top tips to share and tales of previous campaigns, but how can you pick your way through all the shared knowledge and find out what will work for you and your campaign (children)? Approaches to this may differ, but for me finding the balance between listening and learning from others and having the confidence to stick with my own ideas and approaches has been key. Just because one method worked for someone else, doesn’t mean it will for you…but at the same time keep an open mind; shared experience and knowledge can be very valuable. This may sound like I’m just saying “sit on the fence”, but I’m not. Listen, with an open mind, then draw your own conclusions. You know your campaign (children) and even if you make mistakes, they will become your own experiences to share down the line.(Sorry in advance to my boys’ future spouses…)
2) Overcoming barriers and knowing your audience:
Often in our line of work we come up against perceived communication barriers. Whether they be, for example, the language used, cultural nuances or the medium exploited, motherhood has confirmed to me the need to openly recognise these barriers and think strategically about how to work around them. As my boys learn to talk, there are many frustrating moments where we find it difficult to understand each other. It’s very hard to repeatedly try to convey a message (“you have to hold my hand near the road, it’s dangerous”, “please stop kicking your brother in the head, I don’t think he likes it”) and be met with a blank response. It’s even more difficult to be unable to articulate the words for what you want at all (even when mostly what you want is chocolate ice cream). Just as my boys and I have learnt to understand each other and to communicate through different channels, so too must our clients learn to understand the audiences they want to reach, recognise the barriers that prevent them from being properly understood and adapt their modes and methods of communication accordingly.
3) Tools and technology:
My two year old can use a smartphone or tablet almost as confidently as me. He has frequent conversations with Siri, takes numerous ‘selfies’ and can find Thomas the Tank Engine on YouTube in a matter of seconds. It’s frightening, but also enlightening. It highlights to me that an eagerness to learn how to utilise the communication tools we have at our fingertips and in our pockets is all that is really necessary to make practical and effective use of them for strategic communication. Often, our clients are put off by what they see as being technological barriers to understanding how to use online communication platforms and networks strategically, but with an open mind and a little guidance, anyone can make these tools work for them. (Now, I just need to work out those toddler-proof parental control settings…)
4) Consistency is key:
It often takes a lot of time, patience and dedication to communicate effectively with small children. They push boundaries and can employ methods of manipulation, deception and interrogation without remorse. Pre-motherhood, I will admit to being a bit of a soft touch, but when faced with such underhand tactics, I’ve had to up my game! Consistency has become key in our household and a standard method of approach, tone-of-voice and mode of delivery is strived for in most situations. In strategic communication, the need to develop a clear organisational, institutional or even individual tone-of-voice is just as important. Keeping up a consistent presence across social media platforms, websites and blogs will reap the most rewards; your audience will come to recognise and understand you, providing room for engagement.
5) Engagement is the goal:
Any form of communication is a two-way process and the marker you’re doing something right comes from what you’re getting in return. In motherhood, the most satisfying thing in the world is seeing your children learn and grow through your teaching. They, in return, make you re-evaluate your own behaviours, outlook and aspirations by providing fresh insight into the world around us. In our line of work, audience engagement is the end goal. Have we reached who we wanted to; are they engaging with our message; are they providing feedback and engagement? These are the questions we must constantly ask ourselves and if the answers are no, how do we amend our strategy and outlook to be more effective?
One last, but perhaps most important, reflection that melds both my home and work lives together is that in both instances you can never, ever underestimate the value of a support network; people to listen to you moan, bounce ideas off or provide a non-judgmental ear.