Originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera and the Longmont Daily Times-Call.

What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. One of the best lines in cinema history came from the movie Cool Hand Luke starring Paul Newman. It runs through my head endlessly now. Why? Let’s take a look.

Engagement vs. Education. Seems simple. So, why do so many businesses and organizations think they are engaging people when they aren’t engaging them at all? They’re educating and informing, but engagement doesn’t always follow. I’m not talking about traditional education, that is a different matter entirely. But, too many in business and in government are confusing the two, leading to poor communication at best, angry audiences at worst.

Consider the nuances. To educate others means to provide them with information, to persuade or condition others to feel, believe, or act in a desired way and/or to train by formal instruction. This is a fairly one-way communication style. It’s passive. It doesn’t necessarily change with feedback from others. It just is.

Engaging someone requires capturing their interest and their participation. It means you being sincerely interested in others’ opinions and perspectives. It means others are interested your topic or plans and want to share the experience. After successful engagement experiences, it isn’t uncommon for thoughts and actions to continue after the initial event. Remember, to engage someone implies that there is dialogue. It isn’t a one-way street.

There are many areas of gray between education and engagement. It isn’t necessarily a binary choice. Both are positive if properly recognized implemented, and if potential audiences know what they are in for. But, confusion over the purpose and goals of these two different activities leads to missed opportunities. Take care to think about what you are really working toward with your communication. Do you really want to engage? Do you really want to educate? How you plan will determine how likely you are to reach your goals.

Here’s a head scratcher. I was invited to attend a special meeting that was promoted as an opportunity engage with state officials concerning new rulemaking that will impact all citizens in the state of Colorado. However, the presenters weren’t interested in any actual engagement. They wanted to inform the participants of the rules that they had already made. The entire presentation was simply informational. Questions were met with, “Thank you for your feedback, we’ll pass that along.” It didn’t take long for the 70+ people in attendance to become very frustrated. The dissatisfaction level was palpable. We felt misled.

As a society we have lost many of the rules of engagement. Heck, we don’t even engage that much anymore, rules or no rules. While there are rules of engagement for war, you may be surprised to know that there are rules of engagement for effective communication. The rules are pretty simple, but they are necessary if you wish to achieve positive communication goals.

First, remember that engagement is the process of building trust and credibility. So, if your audience is frustrated and/or dissatisfied, you lose. Trust and credibility lead to loyalty, something all businesses and organizations work for. Loyalty allows you to achieve your goals. Period.

Other messaging rules to keep in mind if you want to truly engage others. It’s not about you, it’s about your audience. If you are talking about your goals, without taking feedback, it is about you. Be careful to recognize the needs of others.

Lose the need to be “right”. Over deliver. Show you’ve actively listened by your actions, not your words. Be responsive. Apologize when you are wrong. Never forget that your audiences are what allow you to succeed. Be humble.

“Tell me, and I forget. Teach me, and I remember. Involve me, and I learn.” Ben Franklin

Stacy Cornay is the owner of Communication Concepts Public Relations & Advertising. She may be reached at 303-638-7127; scornay@comm-concepts.com; www.comm-concepts.com; Facebook.com/Communication Concepts; Twitter @CommConceptsPR; or LinkedIn.

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