Communicating with the Boss: A ‘No-Spin Zone’

Successful professionals in the public relations business generally abhor “spin” as a description of preferred communication strategy.  We shudder when a boss or colleague or client, challenged by a condition that requires response, turns to us and asks, “Okay, how do we spin this?”

Despite some defense of the word as a common method of impacting opinion, “spin” to most communication professionals smacks of manipulation, hype and other eroders of trust.

It was refreshing therefore when a boss was quoted, in a 2012 New York Times interview, as declaring his office as the place where spin stops. “I always tell my staff,” said Shawn H. Wilson, president of Usher’s New Look Foundation,when you come in my office, you’re in a no-spin zone. Just be respectful.”

In his conversation with Adam Bryant (whose interviews with bosses have frequently exposed the good and the bad of leadership communication), Wilson came down hard on the danger of manipulating a message to achieve momentary advantage.  “I’ve seen the habit in other organizations,” the CEO said, “and I saw it creeping into our organization, where people tend to make excuses or spin the truth:  ‘Well, this did happen, but it’s because of this…’

“I felt it was important as a leader to say: ‘Listen, I don’t know why this happened, but we need to get to the core root of why it happened, and it has to be factual. It can’t be all these other things’.”

Be respectful; be honest.  That mantra means the most when it comes from the boss, because—if the chief communicator and her team take it and apply it—it takes root in the rest of the organization, helping to fulfill a CCO accountability:  influence the ongoing transformation of the culture toward shared values and mission achievement.

As this chief executive told the New York Times reporter, “When we started that, I definitely saw a difference in the culture.”

E. Bruce Harrison
EnviroComm International