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Personal or Professional? Communicating in Today’s Workplace

Published on October 23, 2020, at 12:55 p.m.
by Grace Evans

If one sliced open public relations, at its core would be communication. It’s is the central tenet of every client meeting, every strategy, every campaign. Without communication, there is no PR, but is there such a thing as too much communication? When is it necessary to draw a line, and where is that line?

Introducing personal beliefs into the workplace can be complicated and even lead to conflict. According to a study commissioned by CPP Inc., 36% of U.S. employees deal regularly with workplace conflict. Learning how to balance professionalism with company culture and individual values is a career-long process on a road paved with inevitable mistakes. To address some of the nuances of communication are three PR professionals who offer insights based on their different backgrounds.

How to communicate on social media
For many PR professionals, social media is unavoidable. An ING study found that “81% of PR professionals believe that PR can no longer operate without social media” and “78% of PR professionals consider social media to be important to the performance of their daily work.” However, to cut through the clutter on digital platforms, professionals need to realize the importance of honesty and sincerity when implementing tactics.

“Curating these perfect lives and perfect worlds is really not helping anyone. It has actually hurt a lot of people that are

Ginger Porter of Golin

trying to live up to some vacation standard or some kind of beauty ideal. I wonder if we’ll enter into a period of more transparency and authenticity, and people can just be themselves instead of so curated,” said Ginger Porter, president of the central region of Golin.

Oversharing is another potential side effect of owning a personal social media account. In a time when taking a stand on different social issues is important, deciphering how much of one’s beliefs should be shared on social media often poses a challenge. Paris Kissel, account supervisor for Qorvis Communications, posts aboutissues she is not only passionate about, but she also has knowledge and experience in.

“Passions have to be backed up with real-world actions,” Kissel explained. “Not only am I posting about things I believe in, but I’m also going out and volunteering, I’m finding opportunities to sit on boards for causes I believe in, I’m donating money, I’m speaking out, and I’m writing articles to raise awareness.”

How to communicate an issue in the workplace
According to Forbes, “employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.” Company culture is vital to today’s PR professionals, but how does someone communicate when they feel there is a problem?

Paris Kissel of Qorvis Communications

“Vocalizing your worries in a strategic way is really important,” Kissel advised. She then gave an example: “I saw something unethical that was occurring, [and] I started off by going to HR. Then from there, I went to talk to my manager. Then I started talking to other colleagues and VPs that I’d formed relationships with. The change didn’t happen overnight, but it eventually did happen,” said Kissel.

Anita Brikman, vice president of communications and public affairs at Consumer Healthcare Products Association, also believes there has been a shift in the workplace over the course of this year, leading to more open discussions among colleagues on recognizing and overcoming differences. “There has been a new understanding that we may bring unconscious biases to work just by the nature of how we were brought up and how we perceive the world,” she said.

Issues may form over time, but the importance of speaking out can not be understated. Company values must also be maintained and respected to build company loyalty and increase trust within and outside of an organization.

How to communicate with clients
As individuals, everyone brings new mindsets, experiences and personal values to an organization. There’s always an opportunity to learn from co-workers, upper-level management and, as PR professionals, an organization’s clients. But when does a disagreement with a client become more than a conflict over strategy?

“There’s a broad spectrum of matters where one can have disagreements with clients. On one end of the spectrum, there is an opportunity to talk it out, understand each other’s perspectives and solve for the challenge at hand,” said Porter. “We have to step in and understand why they might be asking us to take shortcuts or do things a different way. It’s important to understand things from their vantage point.”

Anita Brikman of Consumer Healthcare Products Association

Porter also shared her beliefs that in rare circumstances, we must draw the line if the conflict is at the other end of the spectrum. “If the client’s actions put the employee at risk or isn’t inclusive of people’s different perspectives and backgrounds, then that’s a no-go for me as a leader, as well as for broader Golin and my peers,” Porter said.

While some topics require complete agreement and understanding from both parties before moving forward, leaving personal biases at the door and respecting others’ opinions are also important for PR professionals.

“We have to craft our messages very carefully. It is up to us as communications professionals to try to leave personal biases outside the office place and communicate the most accurate, thoughtful and informed messages that we can,” Brikman explained.

The takeaway
Communicating effective messages creates efficient workplaces and forms cultures that encourage collaboration and diversity of thought. Today’s society illustrates the growing power of communication, but to PR professionals, it has always been a part of the industry. Practitioners now have to discern what messaging is appropriate for which platform, environment, organization and individual — but if any industry is up to the task, it’s public relations.

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