Friday, 28 January 2011

Scientists, Innovation and the Public:The Case for Risk Communications

Our guest blogger this week is Dr. Andrew Roberts, co-author of "The Lowdown: Dodging the Bullet - Effective Risk Communications"

Scientists are sometimes their own worst enemies: they can produce amazing discoveries, innovative ideas, services and products but their brilliance in the secure corridors of the R&D facility is often not matched by their communication skills.

Scientists often speak a different language and it is when this befuddling approach addresses controversial science that things can go horribly awry. A classic example aired on Nightline with Ted Koppel in the US. A scientist was interviewed on an experimental HIV therapy and proceeded with a highly technical, jargon-riddled “data dump” delivered at a frenetic words per minute count. Koppel’s eyes glazed over and on emerging from his malaise he sternly retorted, “I’m sorry, I did not understand a word that you said and I’m sure my audience didn’t either.”

Technological advancements are often complex and difficult to understand for the average consumer and some are inherently controversial—moral, ethical, environmental, social and economic issues may be raised. As a result these new technologies can generate public fear and mistrust. Add to this freedom of information legislation and the public “right to know,” media savvy activists and NGOs opposing the science, and often hysterical reporting of advancements in the mainstream press and many advances struggle to gain regulatory approval and/or public acceptance. In these situations scientists, who may be excellent communicators with peers in their own field, need to accept the concerns of the public as being real and dismissing these concerns or trying to categorically downplay them with a purely data or fact-driven approach is not going to work. Case studies of communications failures during technology commercialisation delays clearly indicate failings in this area.

This is a key aspect of risk communications, known as Risk Perception Theory. Whatever concerns the public have about a technology, scientists must accept these concerns as real. Perception equals reality. From this point on your aim is to engage your audience in as concise and concrete a manner as possible, and lead them to pertinent information that will enable them to make a more informed decision. Showing you actually care will help you garner trust, an essential element in influencing you audience in controversial situations.

During controversy the rules of communication change, it is not your position, authority, experience or expertise that is going to persuade your audience as it likely would under non-controversial circumstances. Rather, showing empathy and caring for the views of the audience and signalling an intention to engage in dialogue are the keys to building trust. As a first step, risk perception theory guides communicators to adopt a constructive stance, both in terms of verbal and nonverbal communications, which will be a bridging point towards prompting concerned parties to judge controversial technologies from an informed and balanced perspective. - Andrew Roberts, Ph.D

Friday, 21 January 2011

Building relationships with China....

In honour of the visit of Hu Jintao, the Chinese President, to the United States, we are publishing an excerpt on building business relationships with the Chinese, from one of our very first titles, “The Lowdown: Business Etiquette – China,” by Florian Loloum.

Generally speaking, the Chinese tend to seek long-term relationships. In practice, you will find the Chinese very open and welcoming - as long as you do your best to save face – both theirs and yours!

Q:      How do you build one of these long term relationships?

A:      Remember - the Chinese are more interested in the person you are, than the company you work for. To help build a relationship, and thus enhance your own guanxi, spend as much time as you can with your Chinese colleagues. Eating out, cultural outings, sharing common hobbies, karaoke and so on, are all good.

Let’s talk about that a little more:

There are four key steps to building a business relationship in China.
First is the exploratory phase. This is where you should focus on laying foundations. You should be open and patient. Accept your client’s invitations, try to avoid refusing requests as much as possible and meet with as many of his contacts as you can. This stage can last for up to several months, which can be frustrating. The Chinese strategist Sun Zi states, in the Art of War, that ‘to weaken an opponent, it is vital to wear him out.’ You may feel like that sometimes.

At this stage it’s important to help your Chinese counterpart to understand you. Share past experiences, invite him to show you his country - but be sure to offer to pay for it. Take an interest in his interests. Chinese culture is the best subject to focus on at this stage. Let him take the lead.

Let’s call the second phase ‘developing.’ Here is where you work on deepening the relationship. You may feel a shift – your colleague will become more open and may ask more direct questions. He may share more information with you and introduce you to more people.

This is when you can take the lead a little, and reciprocate. Invite your counterpart to the places you like, let him meet some of your colleagues, friends - and even relatives. These activities and introductions don’t necessarily have to be related to your business objectives. If you can, invite him to visit your business headquarters – that’s something he might not be able to do without your intervention.  In other words, start to contribute more to the relationship.

When you’ve gotten to know each other better, the third phase - let’s call it ‘movement’ - kicks in. If you’re doing a deal, this is usually the right time to discuss terms pertaining to transparency and confidentiality, to make specific proposals, offers and counter-offers, exchange of concessions and so on, all of which will lead to an agreement – in other words, laying the foundation of your future business relationship.
The last phase is finalizing the agreement. The start of this phase may not be obvious, as the final stage of an agreement in China usually involves giving only a broad outline of an agreed project. The details are usually left to be worked out later. You’re headed for the finish line now. Your flexibility and patience will be challenged even more as the conclusion of an agreement approaches.

It’s useful to remember that the contract is not the most important thing - relationships are. In China, the success of a business transaction depends on how relationships have been cultivated between the various parties. And relationships need to be nurtured carefully by way of multiple gifts and shared activities.

From “The Lowdown: Business Etiquette – China” by Florian Loloum.

Friday, 14 January 2011

What is Risk Communication?

This week our guest blogger is Dr. Andrew Powell, co-author (with Dr. Andrew Roberts) of our latest title, "The Lowdown: Dodging The Bullet - Effective Risk Communication Skills".

We all have been in situations where we have been talking to someone where we just cannot seem to get our message across.

“The lights were on but no one was home! He just didn’t get what I was talking about. He seemed totally freaked out!”

Hardly surprising really that he didn’t “get it”! If he was freaked out about the issue he was obviously upset!

What you have to realize is that the rules of communication change when people are upset!

Communication in these situations of high concern, and in situations of low trust, high sensitivity, or controversy needs to be considerably different to the regular types of conversations you may have with colleagues, friends and family.

There is now a large body of research has showing that people under stress typically have difficulty hearing, understanding and remembering information and, if they are listening at all, tend to focus on any negative words or phrases that you may include in your conversation. 

Whilst many people, e.g. politicians, managers, researchers/academic lecturers, have excellent communication skills appropriate to their own specialist areas, communicating effectively in high concern or high stress situations presents very different challenges, and a different set of communication skills is essential in such situations. Players must become adept at what is now known as Risk Communication.

Risk communication is a science-based approach for communicating effectively in high concern, low trust, sensitive, or controversial situations. The techniques were developed over 25 years of psychological and communications research and are based on principles developed by researchers that include Dr. Peter Sandman, formerly of Rutgers University, and Dr Vincent Covello of the Center for Risk Communication in New York. Risk communication has become recognized as a necessary component in effective risk management and decision-making.

Risk communication is the two-way exchange of information in situations where there is a high level of perceived risk. It does not matter whether that risk is real or imaginary, the reality that must be dealt is the risk in the mind of the person you are communicating with. The goals of risk communication are to enhance knowledge and understanding, build trust and credibility, encourage dialogue, and influence attitudes, decisions and behaviors. Risk communication is not ”spin-doctoring”. It is about the effective delivery of fact. - Dr. Andrew Powell

"The Lowdown: Dodging the Bullet - Effective Risk Communications" is now available in eBook form and is available in audio form later this month at Audible.

Next week, Dr. Andrew Roberts talks about the science of risk communication.

Photo by BLW Photography 

Friday, 7 January 2011

Happy New Year!

If you’re like us, you may be setting some goals for 2011. To help, here are some goal-setting tips from “The Lifestyle Lowdown: A Simpler Life, ” by Lucy McCarraher and Annabel Shaw.
Check that each of your goals is SMART:  Specific - don’t make loose aims to, say, get a new car soon. Decide exactly what you want, make, model and colour. Measurable - if you can't measure it, how will you know if you’ve achieved your goal? Don’t aim just to lose weight or become fitter; rather set a target to lose ten pounds or to be able to walk five miles Achievable doesn’t mean you have to know exactly how you’ll do it; just that it’s possible within the time you’ve allocated. You can’t predict what new job you’ll be in at the end of this year, but you can be certain you’ll find one. Realistic isn’t the same as easy – a goal which isn’t challenging won’t motivate you. It means “do-able”. If you can’t reorganise your entire working system this month, focus on sorting out one aspect of it. A realistic project may push your boundaries, but it shouldn't break them. Setting a Time frame for the goal gives you a clear target to work toward. Without a start or finish time, the commitment is too vague and often gets lost or postponed. 

If you don’t already have one, a well-used, working diary is a considerable aid to living a simpler life – whether it’s the old-fashioned paper kind, or an electronic personal planner. It’s a good place to keep a list of your long-term goals and mid-term objectives, but at this point you need to schedule into your diary at least one concrete action towards each mid-term objective which you’re going to take in the next four weeks. Preferably this week. Best of all, find at least one thing you can do today to start off on the journey to your Simpler Life.

If you’ve decided that finding a life partner is a top “Love” goal, ask your friends around tonight for a brainstorming session about singles they may know already and places to meet new ones. If this is the moment to sort out your finances, book an appointment with a financial advisor right now, or sign up for an online newsletter. You could combine a goal to cheer up your social life with one to get healthy and join an exercise class at the gym this evening. With an ongoing activity like that, you can schedule it right through to the end of the year. Every time you complete a task, cross it out and timetable in the next step you need to take.

This part of the plan to achieve a simpler, more satisfying life is without a doubt the hardest. Creating your goals takes time, thought and energy. Taking the first steps towards achieving them can feel daunting - but the payoff is huge. The realization that most of your dreams, or the desires that underpin them, are achievable and that within a comparatively short time will come into existence, is a life-changing experience. Replacing a nagging sense of frustration and disappointment with powerfully authentic self-belief and success moves you out of the shadows and into the clear light of a simpler life.” – from “The Lifestyle Lowdown: A Simpler Life,” published by Creative Content Ltd.

Click here to check out Lucy and Annabel’s latest book, “The Real Secret – What to Do When the Universe Hasn’t Delivered.”