There are few business leaders who prioritize the importance of written communications in their company. The ones who do recognize that much of work today happens in words on a page or on screen, and writing well means doing better business. Words are also the way leaders communicate their ideas and philosophies to others. It is how many self-promote, inspire and engage with the wider community.
Working alongside these people, I have observed three common predicaments:
- You have nothing to say but feel pressured to say something.
- You have something to say but can’t articulate it.
- You have a lot to say and can’t restrain it.
You have nothing to say but feel pressured to say something.
Social networks are to blame for this psychological torment experienced by c-suite executives everywhere. It’s a crippling combination of pressure and envy. You feel that you need to publish an op-ed, release a blog post, post a tweet, take action to show your relevance. You notice that a colleague has shared a post online. She’s getting ‘likes’ and she’s visible and you’re not. The feeling you get is akin to being in an emergency: “Don’t stand there! Do something!”
Don’t give into that pressure. If you feel you have nothing to say, nothing new to add to the conversation which will be of value to others, focus on an area that you are interested in and follow conversations that are happening there. Do this with the intent of developing a topic of your own. Take your time. If the clock is really ticking, set a deadline, but never without being a student of the subject. This is what being a thought leader means. Often, you need to follow first.
Being a thought leader often means you need to follow first.
You have something to say but can’t articulate it.
If you find yourself in this situation, I’d call an expert. Make it a storyteller. Choose a listener. Someone who has a degree of distance. A person who can think strategically about what you’re trying to communicate.
When people tell me that they don’t know what they’re trying to say, my response is – start anywhere, tell me anything. Let’s talk about what was good about today. Then we’ll move to what wasn’t good. In our conversations, I will ask questions so we get to a place where you’re talking about the things that matter. Then we filter it down together and craft it into language you can own.
Want to do this without any help? The issue is we like to believe our own narratives. We have vested interest in our own thoughts and beliefs. Now consider that you shouldn’t say everything you want to say, there is a right way to say the things you want to say, and you need someone who understands your audience. Find someone good and you can trust this process.
Work with someone to filter your ideas and craft it into language you can own.
You have a lot to say and can’t restrain it.
More is not more when it comes to communicating. When people try to cram a lot of information into one communication, it’s because they feel a sense of urgency or insecurity. They must say this now else someone will beat them to it. If they don’t describe the entire situation in its minutiae, they will be misunderstood. How about no one reading past the third line of your email?
Publishing is not an exercise in exorcising the thoughts and ideas in your mind.
This is a case of misunderstanding the purpose of communication. When you publish thoughts and ideas, it is for another person – the receiver, the reader. Publishing blog posts and op-eds is not an exercise in exorcising the thoughts and ideas in your mind. If you have too many things to say, break it down into single messages. Then ask yourself, is this substantial enough to stand on its own? If an idea is a parasite that is weak on its own but wants to latch on to other more important topics, bin it. If the idea is strong enough to be developed, give it the credit it deserves and save it for standalone communiqué.