Last Updated: 14 June 2022
I remember a few years ago, or quite a few years ago now; I am still coming to terms with my aging process! I remember feeling frustrated behind my desk one particular late afternoon, staring at my computer on a Friday. The corridors were empty, and all I could think of was wanting to see my one-year-old son. I felt guilty and torn between going home or risk being seen as not dedicated to my work. You may guess I can be quite the over thinker!
The only other person in the office was my boss. An inspiring man with a big vision and an ability to inspire and mobilize others, even on a Friday late afternoon. He was, still is, a very kind man who cared about his team. So he looked at me with great surprise and with genuine interest:
“Nadja, what’s wrong with you? Why are you not at home with your family?”
I was flabbergasted with his answer. Did he not see I was here because of the work, trying to show off how dedicated I am to the cause !?
So I blurted out that it was because I felt I was expected to and that the workload was becoming too much. He looked at me with a smile and calmly uttered the following words, which struck me like a lightning bulb:
“Nadja, we take our freedom for granted. However, we must work and ensure our freedom of choice, speech, and life is not taken away.”
Then with a smile, he said:
Spend some time with your son, and we will continue on Monday.
It never struck me before that moment how painfully right he was. I grew up in a country where most of my freedom was a given. I never worried about being invaded; I never worried whether my family would disappear or suffer from poverty because living in a conflict struck country.
The oblivious link with cyber resilience
The cyber threat landscape has shifted significantly in a short amount of time. Cybercrimes are set to cost governments and organizations $10 trillion by 2025. . But that’s only the visible cost. Cyber threats have many layers—those above the water and those under the water that are invisible to the eye.
IT teams and cyber security experts are paddling like crazy under the water to prevent cyber breaches from amplifying and causing severe harm to businesses. There are many challenges in building and implementing mature cyber resilience strategies across people – processes, and technology. But a significant challenge remains the art of communication in receiving buy-in from stakeholders, starting from the Board of Directors who oversee governance and business risk to John Doe whose lack of cyber hygiene behavior can compromise information security.
Despite several studies pointing out that the human factor is a significant contributor to the risk of cyber breaches, the investment in quick fixes and technology alone doesn’t seem to reduce the growing threat of cybercrime. Cyber breaches headlines keep popping up every day, but are statistics enough to foster transformation and become cyber resilient amidst the digital disruptions?
How do you communicate cyber risk in people’s map of the world from top to bottom and inside-out?
Here are three strategies that worked like magic for me during my senior stakeholder executive engagement functions at NATO. Working in NATO’s largest Information and Communication Agency, I was responsible for influencing political and military decision-making to ensure security was not an afterthought. That was my bread and butter, although I am trying to cut off the bread now, as the calories will keep piling up if I am not careful!
Seek to understand before being understood
It is only human nature to judge everything around us: our belief systems, biases, and habitual ways of thinking shape our mental model of the world. I love the saying that we see the world as we are, not as it is. With this information comes a choice for imposed compliance or incentivized behaviors. When we choose to impose our views, perspectives, and map of the world onto others, we lack any interest in Understanding where someone else may come from. Perhaps it triggers us in ways that the discomfort is too big, and we like to stay in our comfort zone.
Maybe we feel strongly about our core values and what is correct, which drives our communications and interactions with others. However, when we come from a place of understanding, we do not give up on our beliefs or views. It simply means that we are willing to open up space for someone else’s map of the world. Whether we agree or not, that’s not of imminent importance. Listening without judgment but with curiosity instead can build common grounds. At the same time, we lower someone else’s defense mechanisms and are likely to achieve a win-win situation.
If you communicate with someone who perceives you, your views, and your words as a threat – getting buy-in will be a roller coaster of a ride, and success may remain out of reach.
Prepare your communication
Building on the notion of success; whenever the big boss went to meet with Ambassadors, Military leaders, CEO’s and other Senior Stakeholders, we never allowed him to go in blindly. That’s why he had a dedicated office for strategic communications and engagement, to prepare the ground. Just like the military doesn’t go into battle without a plan, you should never go into a meeting without thinking through your plan of action. We used one, maximum two pagers.
The rest was background information which was optional and not mandatory to reach. This helped him with his decision-making and reduced mental fatigue as you can only imagine the sheer amount of decisions someone makes in that position. It also helped us structure and filter out the messages we wanted him to get across, messages which were relevant and related to outcomes that were for the highest good of NATO, the Agency, and the stakeholders involved.
So what does this template look like? We used three sections framed around the following three key questions:
- What does success looks like?
- What are the three key messages?
- What are the blind spots?
Understanding what success looks like before going into a discussion can help you focus on how you present yourself to achieve that successful outcome.
Understanding and prioritizing top key messages helps maintain a focused and succinct discussion as time is scarce in the era we live and work in.
Researching the blindspots to prepare uncomfortable communication with data, experience, and vision can turn barriers into building blocks towards your successful outcomes.
Structure your communication
Let me introduce you to the LSD technique, and I am not referring to the substance in case you thought I was losing my mind. The LSD technique stands for Listening, Summarising, and Deepening the Understanding.
Listening starts with active listening, focused on the other party or individuals. Your mental alertness allows you to read between the lines, listen from a place of understanding, and give someone the gift of being truly present. This helps them feel more at ease and less defensive in your presence.
Summarising is a way of asking open-ended questions versus closed questions. Closed questions only have one potential category of an answer: yes or no. Unless you are in front of an extrovert who commentates 24/7 like my son, you cannot go further into a conversation. But when you ask open-ended questions, you can pave the way to go deeper into the conversation and give yourself the time to make sure you understand the other correctly. It reduces the risk of misunderstanding and human error later on.
Deepening the Understanding is a way to scratch the surface and go beyond your own bias and someone else’s bias from a place of curiosity and possibility. This part is vital to change perspectives. Until recently, science did not believe in changing mindsets until research proved otherwise through neuroplasticity.
“Neuroplasticity refers to the physiological changes in the brain that happen as the result of our interactions with our environment. From the time the brain begins to develop in utero until the day we die, the connections among the cells in our brains reorganize in response to our changing needs. This dynamic process allows us to learn from and adapt to different experiences. Dr. Celeste Campbell is a neuropsychologist in the Polytrauma Program at the Washington, DC Veterans Administration Medical Center.
Changing someone’s perspective has to be done in their map of the world to be meaningful and sustainable without reverting to fear as the default strategy as it leads to people reducing the fear. Instead, the need for practical Understanding of the broader implications across societies from cyber threats is critical for building a healthier security culture amidst the digital disruptions.
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