Using Communications to Bridge a Divide

By KDH Creative Director Molly Russin

 

Want to bridge a divide?

Choose your words carefully.

I’m fascinated with a poll conducted by Frank Luntz and the de Beaumont Foundation called Changing the COVID Conversation. According to Dr. Luntz, “…our leaders need to remove politics and partisanship from their messaging and give Americans a better reason to comply other than because it’s good for them.

 

This hit home for me, and it might for you, too. I have a brother who refers to COVID as “the flu.” My neighbor divides our community into “maskers” and “anti-maskers.” And a former colleague calls those who won’t get vaccinated “entitled West Coast brats.” If we’re honest, we all use labels to identify certain behaviors but this year, especially, those labels carry strong and unmistakable political overtones.

 

As a communications aficionado, I firmly agree that when two sides are miles apart, the way to bring them together—or at least closer—is by paying careful attention to the words that we use and the labels that we assign. This may sound obvious but it’s no easy task.

 

Certain words put fuel on an already raging fire. You’ve seen it before in many different industries. For instance, the “Diet and Nutrition” industry morphed into the “Health and Wellness” movement. The former smacks of deprivation while the latter is positive and empowering. James Clifton notes in an article in New Food Magazine, that Weight Watchers’ recent rebrand to WW follows a similar “healthful” path. Purging the brand of the ‘Weight’ word presumably makes it feel more comfortable to a wider audience, not consciously on a diet. Similarly, the use of and reference to “big” models has morphed to the more politically correct (and kinder) “curvy” and “full figured”.

 

According to Dr. Luntz, in all conversations that seek to bridge a divide, it’s critical to

Focus on the benefits of success rather than the consequences of failure (Vaccines are coming soon; life will return to normal again)
Don’t expect people to go along because “it’s good for them”; rather, speak to what might happen if they don’t do their part (Just one infection can grow to shutter an entire city)
Keep politics out of it; ensure that messaging is neutral

 

In the deBeaumont poll, they published the following list of “This not That” words to help bring people together as we continue to fight this common enemy. Details are available at debeaumont.org/changing-the-covid-conversation.

 

The next time you’re seeking to bridge a divide, choose your words carefully. Need help thinking through your messaging? KDH Consulting can help.

 

 

 

 

 

*Changing the COVID conversation by Mark Miller, deBeaumont.org, 11/30/2020

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