Communicators tend to carry more corporate freight and persuasive weight during crises.
Along with that heightened responsibility (and visibility) comes increased scrutiny, however. Mistakes get amplified; blunders snowball. Good intentions get misconstrued.
The last thing you want right now is to cause confusion, harm or distraction due to careless wording or clumsy phrasing. Communicators can be messengers of peace, healing, recovery and empowerment, but it takes a consistent flow of thoughtful, mindful messaging.
Keep these ideas in mind to be a more careful communicator:
Be slow to respond. This goes for email, social media and even texting. Before popping off a heated reply, take time to compose yourself and your message. Fight against this cultural obsession we have with speed.
Before hitting send, read and re-read your text. Then read through it again. Being slow to respond tends to take the edge off barbed phrases that might be problematic.
When in doubt, err on the side of brevity. As James Baldwin rightfully suggested, “You want to write a sentence as clean as a bone. That is the goal.”
Clean sentences require fastidious editing, so take time to craft polished responses.
Careful communicators should be especially judicious with social media activity. Silly as it seems, just one “like scandal” can undo whatever credibility you’ve previously earned by writing or doing or saying all the right things.
Just assume that your followers will view your “likes” in the worst possible light.
Stifle your inner jokester. One offensive joke, post or email can sink your career. (Just ask Justine Sacco.)
Before hitting “post,” “publish” or “send,” consider what your recipients are going through.
The BBC writes:
It is incredibly important to realize that the person on the other end with whom you are dealing may be in a very serious situation: You don’t know what they are facing,” says Candace Smith, founder of Candace Smith Etiquette in Orange County, California. “Stay away from humor unless you know someone very well. [You] don’t know how things will land.
Is that questionable “chuckle” really worth it? Better to save your new bit for close family and friends.
Watch for bias or blindspots. Ask for more feedback on your communication initiatives. Steer clear of common blunders and subtle ways to offend people. Make sure your “communication outputs are inclusive,” as Annique Simpson writes.
Be mindful of your language and precise in your terminology. Seek out diverse voices who can help guide, craft, enhance or alter your strategy. D&I expert Kim Clark says to be especially sensitive about these topics:
- Gender and pronouns: Don’t mention only binary he/she pronouns; do say they. (Used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun, they was the 2019 Word of the Year for Merriam-Webster Dictionary.)
- Race and ethnicity: Don’t say powwow or peanut gallery.
- Socio-economic: Don’t say thug, ghetto, barrio.
- Mental health and abilities: Don’t say lame or crazy.
- Other categories include nationality, age, religion.
- Avoid any other categories that feed into power dynamics and otherness.
- Follow @APStylebook on Twitter for evolving language updates.
Clark also shares wisdom from diversity trainer Deborah L. Johnson, who says that the language a company uses registers:
- Its intent
- How conscious or unconscious it is regarding diversity issues
- How likely underrepresented populations will encounter certain experiences
- The degree to which everyone is seen, heard and valued
- How safe it is to take risks
- Whether everyone has a future in the organization
- How much authenticity will have to be traded in to progress
- How much effort is being made to ensure employee success
- How accountable the organization is willing to hold itself and its employees for implementation and infringements
In other words, words have power. Words carry weight—which can tilt your messaging scales toward uplifting unity, or toward bitter division. So, choose them wisely.