Multilingual Business Communication

April 9, 2009

How bad communication has changed the world

Filed under: crisis communication, Elisa Van Peteghem — meertaligebedrijfscommunicatie @ 3:14 pm

On November 9, 2009, millions of people will commemorate the 20th birthday of the fall of the Berlin Wall. However, it is not widely known that the 9th of November 1989 became a historic day due to a communicative misunderstanding. At a press conference that day, Günter Schabowski, SED-functionary and member of the Politbüro, declared that East Berlin citizens – after 28 years of seperation – were allowed to cross the West Berlin borders. He added that the decision came into force from that moment onwards. But, Schabowski was not properly informed on the decisions taken by the SED-party leaders: The borders were only meant to open the next day.

Apparently, Schabowski missed some key training in “how to give a proper interview/press conference” and unintentionally made the 9th of November a historic day. Although we cannot deplore his communicative mistakes, he should have kept following rules for a good interview in mind:

  1. Know your message
  2. Be honest and open
  3. Avoid jargon
  4. Anticipate difficult questions by preparation
  5. Evade irrelevant questions by returning to your main message
  6. Respect the journalist, be polite
  7. Assess the journalist
  8. Follow a media training

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