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Kiss the Messenger

23 October

TFA blog2An occupational hazard for a researcher is exposing negative feedback about a client’s brand or a product. This can be especially dicey when talking with people in real time when clients are present. Tech-centric companies have a bad rep for blaming users and/or researchers when the developers watch people struggle to figure out how to use their apps. The defensive instinct to “kill the messenger” is understandable but misguided. Negative feedback is a finding. Thankfully this tendency is less prevalent outside the tech world. Earlier this year we encountered the opposite of “kill the messenger.”

Founded in 1989, Teach for America is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educational equity. They recruit students from top tier colleges to teach in under-served areas in the U.S. TFA also fosters leadership through active engagement with its alumni network.

SayWhat had the good fortune to work with TFA to help them better understand how they are perceived by college students who might join. This is a common objective in qualitative research. We are the bridge between the organization and its audience. In communication, the “message sent” is not always the same as the “message received.”

We talked with college students and TFA listened. We helped TFA identify the disconnects between how the organization communicates its mission and vision, and how that message filters through to students. We provided TFA with a window to see and hear how college students perceive them. This allowed them to focus and fine tune how they articulate TFA’s story.BW TFA BlogWhen students critiqued parts of the prototype copy we showed them, the TFA team was motivated by the negative feedback! Seriously, it seemed to invigorate them and engage them in a way we don’t typically see. We also picked up on missing pieces–important aspects of its mission that did not filter through to students. The organizational culture at TFA is refreshingly open and committed to communicating in a way that reflects the authenticity of its mission. To be fair, the “kill the messenger” scenario has been rare in our experience, but so is the level of enthusiasm for the whole truth that we experienced with TFA.

Hazards aside, one of the benefits of this work is that we get to have in-depth conversations with people about things that matter to them. These college students were especially inspiring. They were candid, articulate and deeply passionate about both their personal and our collective futures. I came away feeling a deep sense of hope. I got to see for myself how clearly this generation of educated Americans thinks, and how deeply they care about our world.

If you think we can help you focus and tune your communications, give us a call.

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