Styles of communication

I am nearing the ten-year mark in my role as communications director for the Duke Department of Medicine. I’m grateful for the job (and the excellent Duke benefits). I’m proud of how I’ve responded to the needs of the department’s leaders and faculty and medical trainees, and also how I’ve found ways to keep moving forward. The Duke River of News and the Voices of Duke Health listening booth and podcast are two examples.

A couple of years ago, as the department got a new leader (my boss) and big institutional initiatives loomed—workforce well-being, scientific integrity, how healthcare is paid—I recognized an opportunity to push myself to be more effective, creative, and visionary.

One way I’m doing this is by drafting a communications strategic plan to guide my team’s work over the next five years. I’ve worked on this over the last few months, writing and editing and gathering suggestions from colleagues. Many of them highlighted a certain phrase I used on the page describing the styles of communication we follow in our work: “small just, just ahead” was confusing to my colleagues, who clearly weren’t familiar with my blog post, Anticipation, that explains how I developed this perspective. So, I’ve adjusted the punctuation and description in my table of styles.

Here’s what that table now includes:

Style Description
Celebrate! Good news and kudos to recognize people and their efforts.
Communicator in chief Leadership perspectives, grand vision, honest reflection.
Faces and voices Showing the story of the department and our people through photography, video, audio, live storytelling shows, and other activities.
Narrate your work Document and explain with consistency and detail.
Natural born blogger Generous sharing of What’s new, What’s best or available (Did you know?), and What’s interesting.
Park ranger Roaming the spaces and environment of the department, listening for and observing the life and energies of our people, finding ways to help them find resources, support, and collaborators.
River of News A steady flow of information, announcements, links, images, sounds, and more, from a variety of sources and feeds.
‘Small just’ and just ahead The small things that have just happened, and what’s next to come; i.e., bite-sized reviews of the day to day and here and now, and what’s coming over the next few days.
A rule and a tool Have a saying and a guide to help envision the result before you start to work. More.

In my document, I also credit my friend Dave Winer for describing or developing a few of these styles. He’s written extensively about narrating your work, the natural born blogger, and the river of news. Dave recently celebrated 25 years of blogging.

The blogging style also references my own experiences as a blogger.

The park ranger style of communication is another one I’ve described on my blog, in Lone ranger walks again. That post references New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell and his long walks through the boroughs of New York City. I caught another, more-recent reference that suggests the educational role of a park ranger. The NYTimes Travel section last month featured this article about Frederick Law Olmsted’s tours of English parks and how that shaped his vision of landscape design.

In Central Park, Olmsted had established a security system that resembled the policing of city streets. But he returned to New York determined to try a gentler approach to security. Instead of relying on arrests, he blanketed the park with signs listing his rules, which forbade indecent language, throwing stones, picking flowers — even annoying birds. He also assembled a group of so-called park keepers who asserted control with friendly reminders and education.

I was last in Central Park in October 2017 with my family, and before that in May 2016, with Dave.

Back at work, the communications strategic plan has many more pages to reflect our complex and large department and all that we’re planning to communicate in the years ahead.

There will be more to report, I’m sure.



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