Fear is Your Friend

Do you like fear? Unless you’re a skydiving thrill-seeker (in which case it seems unlikely you’d be reading this newsletter) I’m guessing no. But what if we could use and channel our fears to improve our communications? In crafting words and images, both for myself and my clients, my goal is always to be more real and authentic. While that’s a good goal, it’s not always easy getting to the truth. Organizational communications can often feel stuffy and distant from the reality of what’s happening on the ground. Enter fear as a tool. That tightness-in-the-chest-please-make-it-go-away feeling is unpleasant, but it sure does make things real.

My partner and friend Gayle Carney and I created a series of questions and exercises to help organizations inject some life into their communications. Today I’ll introduce one of my favorites:

Is there something you’re afraid to say?

Make a list of the most outrageous or provocative things you can say. Explore these ideas and ask yourself what wisdom they might have in store for you. As risky as it may seem, sometimes what you’re NOT saying is what people need to hear to get mobilized.

I’m going to practice this right now. What am I afraid to say? How about: DESIGN DOESN’T MATTER. Ok, whew, the cat’s out of the bag. My profession, my livelihood, my passion really doesn’t matter. The problems in the world are massive and there’s no way that an infographic or an email newsletter is going to make a difference. Sure, communications and visual design have a role, but it’s ultimately in service of something much bigger and more important. Design is just fluff.

There, I’ve said it. The things I work on every day – newsletters, websites, reports, infographics – they’re icing on the cake. It’s true–admit it! Still there’s more to the story than that. Social change is an ecosystem and creative communications are a part of that system. In some ways it doesn’t matter, but in other ways it’s as essential as all the other parts. Your theory of change may be profound, but if nobody can understand it then it will have less impact. (Yes, I help visualize theories of change like the ones here, here and here.) You may have an amazing offer for people struggling to find affordable housing, but if they don’t trust you, it’s not going to help much.

In addition to the purpose communications serves, I try to think of the practice of communications as meaningful as well. Even if I’m on a zoom call in my office discussing shades of orange, I try to show up entirely. Show up for the human being on the other end of the call, show up for the vision their organization has for the world, show up for myself with integrity. Ultimately I do believe that this leads to more authentic communications.

That was an interesting exercise. Answering that question “is there something you’re afraid to say” brought me to some fresh realizations. I could probably answer that question differently every day for a week.

This brings us to you. What are you afraid to say? What would happen if you said it and explored what it meant? I’d love to hear it (even if you only tell me)!