Archive for April, 2016

A university executive once said to me, “Your problem, Lauer, is you think every problem is a communication problem.”  At first I tried to convince him otherwise. But in retrospect I really have come to believe that most serious issues and problems really do have significant communication components, and this blog reinforces that perspective every week.

So I fine-tuned the theme to: Lessons in Communication.

Weekly posts will continue to address the challenges of… making individuals, organizations, and causes better understood; understanding  the psychic and social consequences of media revolutions, dealing with the impact of 24/7 journalism and social media;  exploring the issues  related to politics and foreign policy, and seizing the opportunities of a global higher education industry to improve international understanding, develop truly international leaders, solve persistent global problems, and nudge us much closer to world peace. 

The world keeps getting smaller and smaller. But it also keeps getting more and more confusing. As we strive to make the planet a better place to live this blog will continue to explore the most serious communication and media issues we will face. Whether you are an educator, communication professional, student, or concerned citizen of the planet, I invite you to join me in my ongoing quest to understand why communication always breaks down, what can be done about it, and how media revolutions change everything.


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Much of the talk these days in education circles is about requiring school systems to teach a “common core” of subjects, “teaching to the test,” teachers being evaluated based on their student’s test scores, and education schools being evaluated based on their graduates’ students’ test scores. But where is the recognition that before learning can begin teachers must first make a connection with the students they find right there in front of them?

Schools exist in communities and neighborhoods that vary significantly with respect to what living conditions and cultural realities students bring to school. At a time when the world is more tuned-in than ever to the issue of “home-grown terrorism” and how neighborhood conditions influence people, it’s difficult to understand why so many are able to ignore the impact of the family and neighborhood experiences that students bring to school.

John Miller, New York City Deputy Police Commissioner, recently observed on a morning news program that his research suggests that the same conditions that produce gang members also produce terrorists. He argued that it’s not religion, but rather it’s not having the opportunity for experiencing a sense of belonging and empowerment in a situation where far too many young and older people have no jobs, receive no real recognition, and feel no hope for a better life.

Obviously, the first challenge for teachers in this and other settings is to make a meaningful connection with the actual person who walks in the door.That requires letting that person know you understand who they are, where they come from, and what they must overcome at home and with their peers. Finding that point of connection, identifying a talent to develop, and building self-esteem must precede any hope of memorizing content related to math, science and history. Teachers who can make this kind of connection, help students deal with the conditions they live in every day, and still inspire a sense of hope, are worth their weight in gold.

In the end, the discipline necessary to master academic subjects is likely to come only when doing so can be seen by the student as a possible pathway to self-fulfillment and a kind of success that seems remotely within reach.


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“If I didn’t have to deal the politics in my institution I could really make a difference with what I learned at this institute.”

That what was I was hearing after each marketing and communication summer institute I chaired for professionals in higher education. Based on my many years experience I found myself responding by telling them they should plan to spend at least half their time dealing with internal politics. I said that, but then quickly realized that this was a topic that we rarely discuss in our classrooms and conferences.

All this led me to writing a little tongue-in-cheek book about university politics called Learning to Love the Politics (www.case.org/books). What surprised me was that people outside of higher education started telling me that this was the biggest problem they faced in their organizations as well.

The book simply analyzes various leadership styles, anticipating typical barriers to supporting a more sophisticated marketing and communication program. It further describes typical situations and behaviors, and then it adapts grassroots politics techniques to deal with them.

The book further argues that internal politics are best handled within a framework of an “education strategy.” This simply means finding ways in one-on-one conversations and meetings to educate opinion leaders about the effectiveness of your work, and the specific benefits to them of supporting it. This sounds obvious, but few of us actually do it because it requires thinking ahead and organizing our work into brief easily explained categories.

Loving internal politics might be a stretch for many of us, but it is actually a subject matter that can be mastered. There are effective strategies and tactics and they clearly demonstrate how losing a few battles can actually lead to winning the day!


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From a strategic communication perspective the US president’s approach to implementing his administration’s foreign policy has been  thoughtful and pragmatic. He comes across as an intellectual and approaches international problem-solving realistically.

But, I must say I have had difficulty with how he has handled some issues and crises. Two such moments have happened recently:

(1) He publicly expressed disappointment with US allies not getting more engaged with solving the problems in the middle east. While he might be expressing that privately, publicly he should be stressing repeatedly the importance of working together. Reprimanding allies publicly will only alienate them and make matters worse.

(2) The Brussels attacks happened while he was in Cuba. Mistakenly, he must have seen his primary audience as ISIS instead of his citizens because he chose to be pictured in the stands watching a baseball game. He was more determined to demonstrate that terrorists could not disrupt his schedule than to demonstrate real national leadership.

My experience suggests that at moments like this any president needs to move to a setting symbolizing taking control. This is so whether it be the president of the United States or the president of anything else… university, business, nonprofit, etc.

To do otherwise a top leader ends up handing adversaries a strong case for criticizing judgment under pressure, and then followers inevitably lose confidence they need to feel.

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