This just in from the "CYA" file: As Steve Ballmer defends Microsoft's recent deal with Yahoo one has to ask, isn't there a better way to do this? According to The Wall Street Journal, Ballmer told analysts "People haven't figured it out."
Hmmm…isn't communicating the deal your responsibility Steve?
Telling your owners and customers that "they just don't get it" seems a flawed strategy when it comes to making friends. Anyway…Ballmer's response got me to thinking. What is the smart way to defend your deal?
So I reached out to Nick Morgan, one of America's top communication theorists and coaches and author of Trust Me: Four Steps to Authenticity and Charisma.
Here Nick's advice:
1. Never be defensive; never blame your audience
Ballmer's taking exactly the wrong approach in blaming his audience. He needs to take responsibility for the move and explain it to the audience ahead of the turbulence. If we don't understand the intent, we don't understand the action. He should explain his intent.
2. Find the positive news in the debate
Ballmer should find the positive news in the current misunderstanding, now that it's happened. Is this a bold move that will make sense sometime in the future? Is this a way to re-shape the industry? Will this redefine competition with Google? Find the positive news and put some energy behind that.
3. More transparency means more understanding
We live in a transparent era, and we can smell b*llsh*t a mile away. He needs to be more transparent rather than giving us the "Fortress Ballmer" attitude that he's giving us now. Someone is going to spill the beans anyway in this era of 24/7 media saturation, blogging, and Internet gossip. Just give it to us straight and there's no media debate.
4. The audience is way ahead of you
If you think you can fool your audience with dismissiveness, arrogance, or simple 'spin', you're going to be disappointed. The audience is way ahead of you and smarter than you are. It may take a little longer to figure things out, but it will, and you'll be sorry if you've lied to it.
5. Not all publicity is good publicity
Stories have 'legs' if they feed an underlying narrative about a company, a celebrity, or a media figure. In this case, there's a long-term narrative about Microsoft's arrogance and indifference to its customers. This story supports that long-term narrative, so it will get much more play than any other kind of story. You have to manage those long-terms narratives very carefully, because they will dominate what kind of news coverage you get and how much you get.
photo credit: Yodel Anecdotal, Creative Commons