• Needed: a strategic shift from monologue to dialogue

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    YEN MAKABENTA

    YEN MAKABENTA

    First read
    I’m puzzling over a conundrum, or maybe it is what Winston Churchill called “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

    Last Thursday, December 29, President Duterte held a series of one-hour interviews with six TV networks. He was asked the same questions over and over, and DU30 predictably gave the same answers over and over. Six journalists took turns asking questions, but oddly it all seemed like a pooled interview or coverage.

    The more DU30 talks, the less we understand him. In one interview, he declared that it is the people’s and the media’s problem when they do not understand his off-the-cuff and oftentimes shocking remarks, and cannot tell when he is serious and when he is joking.

    According to the most detailed recounting of the interview marathon, the six broadcast journalists (five female, and one male) were given one hour each to do an exclusive sit-down interview with the President.

    The first interview started at 4 p.m. and the last interview ended past 11:30 p.m.

    Yet at the end of it all, our 72-year-old President looked hale and fit for an early call the following morning to lead the traditional flag-raising rites to mark the death anniversary of Dr. Jose Rizal.

    Oddly, it seemed as if after all the talking, neither the public nor the media learned much of anything, they got little insight into the President and his six-month-old presidency.

    To the credit of the interviewers, they pressed DU30 on when the war on drugs will end. To everyone’s disappointment, the interviewee stuck to his spiel: the war will end when the last drug pusher is dead or when his term is over, whichever presumably comes sooner.

    Why Palace communications falters

    This unrewarding conclusion leads me to a tentative explanation of why presidential communications in the Age of Duterte is not very communicative or satisfying: President Duterte speaks mainly in monologue, and hardly ever in dialogue with the public and the media.

    To improve communications and public understanding in the new year, I extend this unsolicited advice: presidential communications should undertake a strategic shift from monologue to dialogue.

    I picked up this insight from an interesting article posted on the Internet that confidently asserts that the idea that governments need more or better communication is a myth. It was posted in April 2012 by a certain Lawrence Serewicz. He wrote:

    “There is an ongoing myth within social media circles that governments need more and better communication. The problem is that this is not true. Governments spend a large amount of time and money communicating with the public. They have annual reports, they have newsletters, they have Twitter feeds, Facebook accounts, and they have YouTube channels. They have minutes, they have agendas, and they have reports all of which are published in paper and electronic copies. Then within each government, the various departments have their own publications, their own media teams, and their own engagement strategies.

    “The issue is not communication nor is it the quality of the communication. The reports are well researched, written, and presented. The message is often consistent and repeated from the political leadership through the senior management down to the frontline services. The staff know their lines, their key messages, and they can explain them. The reports, papers, messages, and communication consistently stress the good news from the organization’s perspective. Even when policies, projects, or proposals do not work as intended, the communication is couched in good news.

    “So, what is the real issue? Dialogue not monologue.

    “Everything I have mentioned above is a monologue. It is the organization communicating with the public but on the organizations’ terms and conditions. The public, however, want dialogue. They want to talk to and talk with the people who deliver the services. They do not want to be talked to. They do not want to have the press line or the management line. They want to talk to someone who can answer their questions no matter how far-fetched or obvious. They want to have answers and they want to ask questions. They do not want to wait days for a non-response or a response that tells them what they already know.”

    Change in communication culture

    Transposing his point to current communications under President Duterte, I will make the following observations:

    1. This president is invariably simplistic, one-dimensional when he discusses issues or his initiatives. Things are black or white for him ; there is little shading; there is no room for argument.

    2. DU30 does not engage the media or the public in dialogue. Communication is one-way, not two-way. There is no discussion, no public conversation.

    3. The sense of a monologue is most apparent when the subject is the war on drugs and the summary killings it has inflicted. DU30’s line on this subject is inflexible.

    4. There is a clear administration line on the drug war, and everyone conforms. The Duterte Cabinet is entirely composed of yes-men, although DU30 would doubtless benefit if there were some no-men.

    5. Government need both internal and external dialogue – within the organization and with the public.
    All this is to say that for communications to be more effective, there has to be a change in the communication culture. The culture is against dialogue that strays away from the monologue. But what the public wants and needs is someone — be he leader or spokesman — who can answer their questions.

    The culture is compounded by risk aversion. Government, local or national, is notoriously risk averse. To avoid the risk, the dialogue quickly becomes a monologue where leaders simplify the message to what they profess, and communicators merely relay the organization “line.”

    Leadership and management fearing loss of control encourage monologues.

    This breeds a communication culture that discourages both an internal or external dialogue. If government is to “communicate” better, it has to accept and nurture dialogue. The process has to start inside the organization. If the dialogue and openness are not occurring in the organization, it will not happen externally.

    Managers and political leaders should understand the benefits that result from dialogue. They need to understand the benefit of an internal communication system that can communicate critical information upwards, and how external dialogue can improve organizational reputation.

    As a practical matter, dialogue should enable the Duterte government to communicate more fully its real achievements to the public, and to explain the shortcomings and lapses.

    By foreclosing discussion and discouraging questions, monologues offer only an illusory idea of success.
    The benefits that come from dialogue are enduring, because they strengthen the leader’s standing and the confidence of constituents.

    yenmakabenta@yahoo.com

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    11 Comments

    1. charles river on

      With so many killed by his drug war at this point, it is no longer possible to exclude the subject of culpability in any dialogue to be made with Du30. He will just consider it too much of a risk to his political survival then choose to avoid it. Besides, what tool can serve a demagogue better than a monologue?

    2. philippine press are one of the most corrupt in the world. it’s owned by the elites who only think about their interest. remember how the media show the anti duterte advertisement that used children to destroy du30? well, it didnt worked.
      having a dialogue with the press is useless. we love our president’s communication as it is.

    3. Even Christ did not engage in a dialogue with his disciples. What seemed to be a dialogue with the disciples in the gospel is actually a monopoly , a monologue by Christ.
      It is always a one-man affair where all of them are mere listeners. They asked questions and received answers which oftentimes they were unable to understand.

      In reality , the so-called Truth is actually a monologue of The Lord. He is the only one who understand what he is saying. The only way to comprehend the Truth is , when that Truth actually makes one man his own home. Otherwise , externally , you will never come to the full understanding of the Truth.

      The Truth must enter you first from outside before it can teach you and give you discernment. Otherwise , you will be groping in the dark.

      Duterte was right when he said that it is not his problem if you do not understand him.
      Just like Christ—it is not his fault if the world hate him because it does not comprehend him.

    4. Yonkers, New York
      07 January 2017

      Manila Times columnist YEN MAKABENTA’s suggestion, a good one incidentally, that President Rodrigo Duterte and his Administration engage the people in a DIALOGUE, instead of just a MONOLOGUE, is an exercise in futility, I am sorry to say.

      There is no way Little Tyrant Duterte will ever engage in dialogue because he is clearly averse to questions about the REIGN OF TERROR which since June 30th he has cruelly inflicted on the Filipino people with his psychotic warrantless genocidal extrajudicial mass-killing of his own people, a brutal blood-thirsty drive which has netted for him some 6,000 hapless victims so far–his macabre goal being 3 MILLION!

      In his habitual Monologue, Little Tyrant Duterte is able completely to give free reign to his penchant to lo let loose, at the slightest provocation, with his uncouth and vulgar tongue in a mouth that is full of garbage an excreta: “PUTANG INA MO!”

      MARIANO PATALINJUG
      patalinjugmar@gmail.com

    5. Dear Yen,

      I liked your article. Do you think Duterte is capable of dialogue? As you know, dialogue is defined as “take part in a conversation or discussion to resolve a problem.” In Duterte’s mind, he’s solving a problem already, and it’s all on his shoulders. Filipinos have already given him a mandate with their vote, so they are just there to witness it, not discuss it. How can you get into him?

      I’m an American who travels and lives part-time in the Philippines. I was in Bohol when Duterte was elected. I feared his reign before the election and more so now.

      We here in America are now dealing with the same kind of leader as you have with Duterte. One-way communication with potentially devastating results. I will pray for us both.

      Best,

      Patrick

      • Yen, whether it’s a dialogue, monologue or soliloquy, the person has to be a little smarter to discern if he is perceived clearly. Such sage consciousness is even more important in the last two being a one-sided interaction. The questions boils down to whether the president has a smart brain or just a bundle of nerves and emotions wrapped in a human case. If he is not keen enough to sense that he is misunderstood repeatedly and his communication lacks clarity and needs immediate reform. Then his effectivity is hanging in a balance.

    6. Communication between government and media was perfect, in fact, always in a honeymoon stage, maybe due to the benefits extended by gov’t to media. So much payola and peoples money went to massaging and tickling the media to favor Pnoy and his government. Look what happened! Drug laboratories inside bilibid jails! Corruption to the highest level led by drug lords and syndicates! Drug addiction in all barangays! Media is a selfish animal. Its whats fattening to them that matters. There was no moral ascendency as far as media was concerned. A Justice Secretary giving in to her frailities with her driver bodyguards, conniving with drug lords and syndicates, taking advantage of persons of interest like Mancao as a sexual partner! What else do you look for?

    7. Yen, You seem to believe that dialogue with the press is needed. But the basic premise premise behind your argument is that the press represents the people and that is wrong. Just look at the recent polls where more than 80% of the people believe DU30 is doing a good job. If we had a poll of the Manila news media we would see that over 80% believe DU30 is not doing a good job. So it is easy to see that you, for one, do not support DU30 and you are on the side opposing the people. Switch sides and support the President who is making the PH a better place for all of us.

    8. A dialogue requires two people sharing. The interviews that happened were not directed to this. The questions were intended to challenge not to move discussion on a topic forward. And who you have on the other side is an experienced prosecutor who knows how to stonewall. If you have suggestions, it should be pitched to your fellow journalists.

    9. If those are the terms the government must uphold in its dealings with the press, equally are also terms the it has to comply in the conduct of the profession, one is integrity., and supported by facts.

    10. Amnata Pundit on

      It is clear to me what Duterte has been saying all his time. He says he wants to end our “special” relationship with Uncle Sam and form closer friendships with China and Russia. He says he will end the war on drugs when the last pusher is eliminated from the streets. What is so hard to understand there? Monologue? I think its the anti-Duterte media that is engaged in a monologue consisting of human rights, morality, rule of law etc, all meant to propitiate their western gods. Even the anti-Duterte polling outfit SWS gives him a rating of more than 80%, so obviously the people are not having a hard time with him. To paraphrase a Tagalog saying: “Kung ayaw mo sa isang tao, madami kang dahilan…”