A communicator better be more than bilingual

As noted in the post below, my current public service contact is expiring soon and it has me in a fairly thoughtful mood. I was recently wandering around the communications division I have called home for the past few months and I was struck by the fact that a good many of my colleagues are far more… introverted… than I have come to expect from people who communicate for a living.

This isn’t to say that they are bad at what they do or that they are bad people or anything like that. I quite like most of the people I work with and I have a lot of respect for what they do. But most communications professionals I know are talkers. Maybe it comes from working so often in a consulting / client service capacity but man, most communications-types I know could sell ice in Inuvik, you know what I mean?

It all feeds into one of the things I frequently come back to when asked in job interviews about my skills: I can get along with just about anyone.

As a student, I worked as a salesman in a big and tall men’s clothing store. One of my colleagues was a hip-hop artist. When the store was empty we would lean on the counter and wax semi-philosophic in obscenity-laced diatribes about whatever pop music was on the radio. Then a customer would come in and we would happily extol the virtues of double-pleat khakis.

In my experience, this does not make me unique among my colleagues in this industry. I think we survive based on our ability to put other people at ease. No matter who your client or boss is, you have to be able to competently speak their language if you want to have any hope of understanding their message well enough to spread it for them.

I feel equally at ease in a room full of corporate VPs as I do in a room full of granola-munching eco-activists. I can speak off-the-cuff with high ranking bureaucrats and I can talk shit with weekend warriors in the dressing room after hockey games.

So what is different about public servants? I don’t know, maybe it is a product of the more process-driven work environment; or maybe a certain type of person is drawn to that environment in the first place. Which came first, the process-driven, risk-averse chicken or the introverted egg?

All I know is that I may not be able to speak French as fluently as they can, but I’d be willing to bet I could out-sell them on the floor of George Richards any day of the week.

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