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Why I hate spin

There are two words within the world of Comms and PR that are guaranteed to set my teeth on edge.

The first, and if you’re a regular reader of my All Things IC blog you’ll know this, is land.

Yuck.

I’m not going to go into that today. There’s a whole separate blog post on that if you want to understand why it jars with me.

The second one is spin.

It’s a poisonous word that undermines the Comms world, particularly the world of internal communication.

Image shows teal spider's web and the words why I hate spin by Rachel Miller, Director, All Things IC.

Spin is not a word I identify with or defines what I do as an internal communicator.

It’s not a word that defines what any of us do as internal communicators.

This morning I had the pleasure of being part of a workshop focused on creating a code of ethics, hosted by the Institute of Internal Communication. Ahead of the session I thought about my own practices while competing the pre-work.

Regular readers of my blog will know I’ve written a fair amount about ethics over the years. I’ve also written about integrity and values and their importance for internal communication.

My upcoming Candid Comms podcast episode on Sunday focuses on values and the importance of language inside organisations.

Why do I hate spin?

Spin creates a web of lies that traps the truth.

When I think of the word spin, it conjures up stereotypical PR images in the media and TV shows, for example, Absolutely Fabulous, which was popular here in the UK, back in the 90s.

Teal image with the wording Spin creates a web of lies that traps the truth on a spider's web.

It also makes me think of people taking information and turning it into something else, spinning it on its head, if you will, stretching the truth. That’s not something that I recognise or practice within the world of internal communication.

But following the discussions today, it got me thinking. What’s the reality for internal communicators inside organisations when it comes to the word spin?

How many internal communicators are asked daily to spin something by their stakeholders?

How many times are you asked to spin something?

Whenever I was asked to spin something when I was in-house, I always pushed back. It was always hard, but it gets easier as your experience, confidence and ability to outline consequences and gather evidence grows.

When I think about creating the right content and telling the right stories inside an organisation, the focus for me is accurate, credible and reliable information that will help our employees do their jobs.

The purpose of internal communication isn’t telling people what to do, it’s to create a shared understanding and meaning. Only then can employees align themselves to a company’s purpose.

But what if the shared understanding and meaning involves spin?

Spin creates falsities, a lack of integrity and hopelessness inside organisations.

I resist the word spin because it does not reflect the values an internal communicator needs to have.

Spin destroys the truth.

How many times in your internal communication career have you been asked to spin something, to twist something, to distort something? That’s not ok. It was never ok.

My mind is whirring today as a result of the ethics workshop, which was absolutely fascinating. I welcome this move by the Institute of Internal Communication and enjoyed meeting with other Fellows and members today virtually to discuss this vital topic.

If we’re trying and striving to be the best internal communicators we can be, having the work we do underpinned by an ethical stance is a really important step forward.

Spin also manifests itself through gaslighting.

Let me give you an example.

How many times in your organisation have you been asked to communicate something which you know isn’t true or that you know isn’t completely accurate or fully finished yet?

Therefore you’re being asked to present it as if it is, as if employee views have been actively sought, not a decision made in the boardroom without consultation.

How many times do you communicate: “you’ve said, so we’ve done.”

But you know the work hasn’t been done with employees, or they didn’t say what’s been presented as fact?

You’ll have your own examples.

That is why I hate spin. That is why I hate that disconnect and acting in a way that’s not in congruence with values.

I had my own values analysed back in 2017 by Jackie Le Ferve of Magma Effect. Of my top three, ethics was in there, which didn’t surprise me.

I get personally and professionally aggrieved when I uncover unethical behaviour towards practitioners, by practitioners and by companies. It doesn’t sit well with me and I loathe seeing internal communicators put in untenable and unpalatable positions.

I love this quote from the wonderful Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Teal image with the text: do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

So what can we do?

Call it out, challenge it.

How can we “do better”?

When you are faced with unethical situations or situations that make you feel uncomfortable, you need to be able to turn to trusted sources, to help you understand what’s going on and ask for help.

Find a mentor, find somebody that you trust to have a confidential conversation with. I’ve done that throughout my internal communication career and now support IC professionals through All Things IC.

If you are a team of one or the most senior person inside your organisation, you might not know who to turn to. And that can lead to incredibly difficult conversations where you’re being put under pressure to stakeholders to just spin this or just comms this, or just get it out or just pretty it up.

Yuck.

Tip: if the phrase has the word just in front of it. It rarely is.

What can you do?

I encourage you, if you’re being asked to spin something to push back and to challenge, call out your stakeholders who are asking you to spin something, stand up for the truth inside your organisation, stand up for the values and the practices that make you the excellent internal communicator I know that you are.

I know that this is difficult, but my goodness me, it’s important.

Sometimes, when you can’t change the situation, you have to change jobs. I’ve done it and you can do it too.

I’ll keep you posted on the IoIC work when I hear about next steps.

Tip: If you’ve never read about the RESIST model (below) from the Government Communication Service, which tackles disinformation, check out information about it online.

Image shows the RESIST model

Further reading on the All Things IC blog

Thank you for stopping by, you know where I am if you need help.

Does this article resonate with you? As ever, you’re welcome to find me on Twitter @AllThingsIC or comment below.

Rachel.

Post author: Rachel Miller.

First published on the All Things IC blog 22 April 2021.

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