Heard of the grief model? There’s now the Powney comms grief model. If you work in the field you’ll know it already.
by Louise Powney
People are bonkers for models/pathways/roadmaps. Ever been in a meeting or at a conference where someone clicks up a PowerPoint slide with a load of boxes and arrows? Everyone perks up like no-one’s business when they clock some arrows. They literally show you where to go or what to do next, which means you don’t have to make decisions which is ace because (whisper it) you’re largely rubbish at making decisions.
Models can also organise what we already know; naming and ordering a mass of emotions which show we’re not the first people to feel like this. And look! There are arrows – which means that there’s a way through this mess.
The most famous of these is Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s model setting out the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
It’s good Liz, but, for comms grief, it’s not good enough. So I present The Powney Communications Grief Model™. No, not actual grief; grief, as in aggro.
In the same way that you once watched water gush through the soil of a dried-out pot plant which you were supposed to be looking after, the six stages of the Powney Communications Grief Model™ systematise the galling process where, despite everything, a great idea turns brown and crispy and cannot be salvaged:
You’ve had a brilliant idea! It came to you in a flash last night when you were doing the dishes and you could barely sleep as you were that excited to tell everyone. Not only is it going to solve a knotty problem but your peers might even call it “innovative.” Your betters might take a little bit of convincing, but you reckon you can talk them round. You gather a shedload of evidence (including a couple of academic papers – get you!) and throw it all into a briefing note so that any half-wit can see that it’s a go-er.
Blimey! People are interested (well, they don’t explicitly hate it which in the public sector means exactly the same thing). You don’t have a green light, but it’s on flickering amber which is good enough for you to start nudging across the line. You carefully work out what needs to be done and who needs to be involved (oh god you’re going to have to go to ICT…). You know there are risks, that’s why you’ve suggested piloting it. You’ve thrown around words like “insight” and “integrated.” You’ve even swallowed any scrap of dignity you had and said “outcome-focussed.” (Yes, you even wrote “focussed” not “focused”, you’re that committed.)
MOTHER OF GOD! Things move slowly. If you hear one more person banging on about “risk” they’re putting themselves at risk of losing all their teeth via the channel of your fist. As the weeks of inactivity start racking up, guilt begins creeping in. The brown leaves of that pot plant rustle through your memory and you start thinking: “Could I have done more?”. The answer is no, this time it is not your fault.
It’s not going to happen, and you’re furious. Someone who’s paid twice as much as you (but has 80 per cent less sense) sat there and said “We’ve decided to go with a newsletter instead.” What they’re actually saying is: “We’re terrified that this might make us look bad so we want to hide behind a pdf that no-one will read because they’re too lazy to open the attachment.” You go out at lunchtime and eat something entombed by three inches of melted cheese because even in this state you realise that sinking four pints in the middle of the working day is sailing a bit too close to the wind.
All that buzzy free-floating enthusiasm from months ago has now hardened into a straight-up diagnosable condition. This manifests itself as you mentioning the rejected idea at every opportunity. You’ll look mad, but that’s because you are mad: hopping mad.
You rage to yourself: “Think the idea is dead you losers? THINK AGAIN. I’m going to keep this alive. And you know why? Because good ideas DON’T DIE. Someone else will come along who actually GETS IT and we’ll go ahead with it AND. IT. WILL. WORK. LIKE. A. CHARM.”
See? Hopping mad.
I-told-you-so-itis – As your monomania boils away and gives you a stomach ulcer you’ll know you’ve progressed to the final stage when that someone who’s paid twice as much as you (but has 80 per cent less sense) goes to a conference and comes back like a hero because they’ve heard about a (read: your) brilliant idea and demands accusingly: “Why haven’t we done something like this?”
In the same way that St Vitus Dance doesn’t involve proper dancing I-told-you-so-itis doesn’t involve bellowing “I TOLD YOU SO.” Instead, it is identified by the churn of self-righteous indignation and complete professional impotence competing for space in your bowels, just like two angry eels in a bucket.
Please note: there are no more arrows after I-told-you-so-itis as there’s nowhere else to go. You’re on your own (and possibly holding your P45). Sorry.
Louise Powney is a communications officer in the North West and a former newspaper reporter.
Picture credit: US National Achives / Flickr.