How to communicate through difficult and divisive times

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Words matter more than you think.

We’re currently living in extraordinary times. Monumental shifts are happening throughout our societies, whether we’re talking about the way we consume and interact amidst the COVID-19 crisis or the tipping point to break a system of racial inequality and oppression.

Change is upon us. And sometimes, change is a painful process, but we know what’s on the other side will make it worthwhile.

As entrepreneurs, we’re always at the forefront of spreading our message about how we contribute and help the communities around us. Sometimes, we must take a stand.

What you say and how you say it has the potential to inspire or divide (and everything in between).

Today I want to offer you some practical tips on how you can deliver an impactful message that’s true to you, but also mindful of your fellow human beings and their plight.

Before you share, own your story

The book TED Talks – The Official TED Guide for Public Speaking has a fantastic quote by Brene Brown that fits this principle in particular:

“We need to have owned our stories before we share them.”

The context of the quote was about how the resolution of your story cannot depend on how the audience will respond to it. If you think about it, that statement can also help you craft a message around a sensitive topic.

When you create content or communicate about your value proposition, you do so because you have the knowledge and the experience to back it up. Your unique point of view comes from a certain comfort level with the subject. 

Does that mean you cannot have an opinion about what you observe happening to the world around you? You can. But always remember on whose perspective you express those opinions.

Opinions by nature have various degrees of subjectivity, which means you are free to have them, but not for others to accept them.

Which is why this next point is crucial when you communicate your message.

Broaden your horizons and expand your perspective

As humans, we crave connection and a sense of belonging. Evolutionary-speaking, we tend to do best when we work together, and we’re wired to prefer good intentions over malicious ones. 

But good intentions can easily backfire when we base our messages on a narrow or one-sided perspective and poor choice of words.  

For example, the words “All Lives Matter” are not intrinsically wrong. But the context in which the term arose is very much so. “All Lives Matter” came up as a counter to the “Black Lives Matter” movement. 

“All Lives Matter” hid under the disguise of inclusivity. Still, it created a sense of delegitimization of a movement that keeps trying to break a system that has disproportionately affected black lives. 

Expanding your perspective will help you communicate in a much more powerful way. Empathy can only come from understanding.

Engage in conversations with those who can improve your perspective. Share with them how you want to promote your insights about the topic and get their concrete feedback. 

Another way to help you with the content you create and how you communicate your message is The Diversity Style Guide. It’s a wonderful, quite comprehensive that will guide you through diversity and inclusion language, terminology, and best practices. 

Let your message pass these filters

When in doubt, always choose kind. You can never go wrong with kindness. 

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” 

Ian Maclaren

And even when your message is rooted in kindness and compassion, let it run through these three filters or gates: 

  • Is it true?
  • Is it necessary?
  • Is it kind? 

Fun Fact: this method/principle has been attributed to many sources, from Socrates to the Indian Manusmriti, the Persian poet Rumi, and even more contemporary sources of the 20th century like missionary Amy Carmichael, and American radio host Bernard Meltzer.

Kindness is another one of those traits hardwired into our biology. Our need to care for others is profound, and an essential component in our evolution as a species. 

When you share your message, whether rooted in your experience or your deep understanding of someone else’s, educate yourself on the topic and, most importantly, be kind.

Be that voice of strength and compassion. The world truly needs to hear it.

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