I’m not a musician, but I understand the importance of being on key. Get the key right, and almost anything you play sounds okay. Be off-key, and the result is nothing but sour notes.

The same principle should apply to managing issues: Start by finding the right tone.

I marvel at how often this principle is ignored – leading to a cacophony of clinkers.

How many times have we heard a politician talk about how they want to present a positive vision, then start barking about everything that’s wrong with their opponents?

Or the candidate who boasts of being energetic and dynamic, while sounding like they just came out of a coma?

Or the business manager addressing an emotional situation with all the emotion of an adding machine?

Or the corporate executive waxing about social responsibility, while hurrying toward his private jet? (Step right up, BP CEO Tony Hayward, whose infamous, “I’d like my life back” whine against the backdrop of a catastrophic oil spill stands as a paragon of tone-deafness.)

In each of these instances, you can be sure there were “key messages” and “talking points” and “issues protocols.” All of which are important, but meaningless if they don’t fit into a bigger framework.

Having established the right tone – are you angry? Excited? Concerned? Cautious? – the words, images, messages and outreach strategies should naturally fall into place.

When dealing with any issue, what you say is obviously matters. But how you say it is just as crucial.

Come across with the right tone, and your messages will be music to your audience’s ears.

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