Lessons Learned

Several Seismic Events Occurred in the Field of Communication in 2017.

Several seismic events occurred in the field of communication in 2017. Verbal sexual harassment was elevated to the status of racial discrimination. Twitter flexed its muscles. Donald Trump personalized presidential communication. And Russian hackers proved that nothing digital can be protected.

Sexual harassment has been prohibited by law and formal business practice for decades, but men who wield political and corporate power seemed exempt, and rarely was anyone at any level penalized for verbal sexual harassment.

By December 2017, more than 40 entertainment, political and business leaders had lost their jobs after charges of sexual harassment. At the highest levels of the entertainment industry and in corporate board rooms these accusations were sometimes about physical coercion and threats, but often they were words of implication.

Two lessons emerge:

  • No one is so powerful that he is unaccountable.
  • Verbal harassment is as unacceptable as physical coercion.

The demise of Harvey Weinstein and the fiasco with the Uber board are prime examples.


A related communication lesson of 2017 has to do with the swiftness and power of Twitter. The national focus on sexual harassment arguably would not have happened had it not been for #MeToo.

Me Too was a movement started on MySpace in 2006 and resurrected as a Tweet by Alyssa Milano. It went viral in October 2017 and created a kind of Arab Spring in the United States in November and December. Time magazine appropriately named Silence Breakers of the #MeToo Movement “Person of the Year.”

Executives and communication specialists at companies of all sizes should take heed. It doesn’t matter how small you are, this can happen to you. All organizations should schedule training sessions and talk about harassment with workers. Many men may be offenders and not realize it. Additionally, companies would be wise to develop policies of no tolerance for sexual harassment and to publicize and enforce them.

The main reason to monitor communication for various kinds of harassment is not to save the company from lawsuits and embarrassment; it is to ensure an open environment where men and women can perform to the best of their abilities and be rewarded fairly for their efforts.

George Washington

The president taught us another lesson using Twitter. Dating back to George Washington, presidents rarely spoke in public, and when they did, they used carefully worded language that represented the deliberated opinions of their administrations and their political parties. Historically, presidential speechmaking didn’t tell us much about who our leaders were or even what they thought; presidents who communicated publicly spoke for the federal government.

Donald Trump is having none of this. He tells the public what he thinks about everything, and he does it all day long. At first critics said he would create so much collateral damage that he would have to stop, but Trump never backed down. A lot has been said about his temperament and lack of caution, but his base of supporters is solidified by his constant contact with them and by his willingness to share almost every thought that passes through his head.

Trump may not be the model of how to use Twitter, but he has proved that there is rich potential for political and business leaders to communicate directly with people at the lowest levels of their organizations.

Lastly, we learned in 2017 that nothing that is stored or communicated digitally is safe. Every organization is subject to hacking, including the National Security Administration. So far, companies have been fighting hacking problems by requiring more complicated passwords and with digital security software. It may be time to concede that if something has to be kept private and secure, it should be on paper.

The only thing predictable about 2018 is that we will see more significant changes. Some old advice may be the best advice. Make all your communication open, honest and fair, and don’t say something in private that you can’t defend in public.

Thomas J. Roach Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Northwest since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at [email protected].

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