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Are you a thermostat or a thermometer?

Thermostat set at 68'There’s a lot of rhetoric these days as we listen to various pundit discuss the many aspects of our country’s fiscal crisis. You can’t go more than 5 minutes without hearing/seeing someone weighing in.

This morning my friend Mike Cherenson, APR, Fellow PRSA posted on Facebook: “Obama needs to be a thermostat rather than a thermometer. A thermostat shapes the climate of opinion; a thermometer just reflects it.” I don’t want to talk about the debt ceiling or the deficit, but what struck me was…am I a thermometer or a thermostat?

As communicators we have an opportunity to be thermostats for our clients, our organizations and our community. We have an opportunity shape the climate of opinion, rather than to just reflect it.

When I counsel clients on the direction their communications should take, I often do so naturally but my choice of words, my tone and my mannerisms definitely shape how people feel about the recommendations I make. As counselors, we need to make sure we’re thermostats.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit today and thought I’d offer these thoughts:

  • Enter a room or a conversation quietly and calmly. Those around you will likely assume you’re in the know and listen more attentively.
  • When you speak, do so with conviction but not with a bully pulpit. Use positive words (will instead of would, can instead of could, etc.).
  • Stand up for your beliefs but actively listen to others who might have different ideas. It is from that listening, you can gain more respect. Together you will collaborate on a new plan.
  • Actively listen to others in the room and offer gentle responses rather than abrasions. Ask questions and gain knowledge from their answers. Concentrate on what others are saying.
  • Understand the influence you have over people and try to use that for good. Help others to grow through your example

In conclusion, I found this quotation which has been attributed to a number of different people before quotation websites put it in the public domain:

Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

There’s very little more important to a communication than character. These words are my guiding focus. Are you a thermostat or a thermometer? Or, a little of both?

By |2018-03-18T22:55:04+00:00July 28th, 2011|Leadership & Networking|2 Comments

About the Author:

Mary Deming Barber, APR, Fellow PRSA, runs a strategic communications consultancy where she helps clients understand how to integrate new media into traditional communication programs. Mary has counseled clients in Tacoma, Anchorage, San Francisco, Oregon, and Colorado for nearly 40 years working with a variety of food organizations, several agencies, and as a key team member on two successful US Senate campaigns. 


  1. Gini Dietrich July 28, 2011 at 2:53 pm - Reply

    I love this idea…and Mike is right.

    This goes to a conversation going on at Shonali’s blog today, too. All about bullies. We live in a free country. One where we have free speech. We all are blessed with our own opinions that change based on our life’s experiences and perspective.

    But the beauty of being a communication professional is we get to hear varying opinions. And, if we’re willing to open our minds, it’s amazing what we learn.

    I’m going to talk with my team about being a thermostat.

    • mary July 28, 2011 at 3:10 pm - Reply

      Thanks for stopping by Gini. The conversation going on at Shonali’s spot is really interesting. I truly wish some folks didn’t feel the need for a bully pulpit, and would think before opening their mouths.

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