True Colors

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    This Edition: How to collect negative feedback on your ideas, plus tips on writing authentically, and designing for humans.

    I Mean This Most Sincerely, Folks

    Last week, I discussed the benefits of writing authentically in business settings, and why it’s difficult to do. If you want to learn to write authentically, how can you go about it? Here are seven tips we have created for our upcoming communications masterclasses that should be helpful.

    Tip 1: Prepare Yourself for Hard Work

    Writing authentically is about accurately reflecting your personal voice through the written word and is a soft skill that can take significant practice. Remember, you probably haven’t actively worked on your writing since high school, and back then, your teachers will have had you practice 10 or more styles of writing, with very few of them emphasizing how to accurately reflecting your own personality. So if you are serious about writing authentically you need to be prepared to put the work in, often challenging yourself in ways that are unfamiliar.

    Tip 2: Abandon Artifice

    Artifice is defined “as a clever trick, or stratagem, designed to deceive”. Politicians commonly use artifice, for example, when they feign anger in order to rile up a crowd. Of course no-one striving to actually write authentically would actually include artifice, but many of us do without thinking about it, to seem angrier, calmer, smarter or funnier than we actually feel. It acts as a kind of protective layer, conveying how we want to be seen, not who we actually are. This type of “fake it till you make it” can be useful sometimes, but not if your goal is to write authentically.

    Tip 3: Discover Your Essence

    If you are going to represent yourself accurately through writing you have to understand who you are – your beliefs, your values and how your experiences represent them. You might already believe you know this, but use this as an opportunity to question it openly. And remember, discovering your essence isn’t just about introspection. Almost all of us talk authentically to our close family and friends, so they will have a clear idea of what motivates us most, and may even have a better understanding than we do. Your friends will see the conversations that cause your eyes to light up, and the topics you choose to bring up versus passively take part in.

    Tip 4: Discover Your Natural Voice

    Informal communication is typically the closest you have to your actual voice. After all, as you chat comfortably to our closest friends, you do so with no pressure and no expectation. Think about how you talk to friends over the phone, or at a coffee shop. How do you convey ideas? What type of words do you naturally choose? Of course this style of communication may ramble, be loaded with shortcuts, and sometimes be plain confusing, but it’s closest to who you really are. As you write, try to capture the essence of this. After all, if your written voice never sounds like you, it will never be truly authentic.

    Tip 5: Edit For Clarity

    When I was at university, I wrote feature articles for London Student Newspaper. I poured over my first attempt before I proudly handed it in. The next day, she called me in to her office.

    “Paul,” she said. “When I asked you to write 500 words, I was hoping I’d understand at least half of them.”

    I’m pretty sure she understood all the words I wrote, but the point was well taken. Looking back, I realised I’d edited my work before she did, and added all kinds of rhetorical flourishes to show that I knew all the big words. It was my form of artifice (see Tip 2).

    Of course most of time you write, you won’t have the luxury of using external editors, so you will need to get good at editing your own work. But as you do so, remember the purpose of the job is to help readers (who often come from different backgrounds and cultures) understand what you are communicating, while maintaining your authentic tone. That comes more from how you express your ideas than how many long words you use.

    Tip 6: Convey Inner Truth (with care)

    Did my editor at London Student say the exact words I mentioned above? Given that it would have been in 1991 and I didn’t keep a diary back then, I very much doubt I recall it exactly. But the reason for the brief story is to convey a deeper truth, the change in perspective my editor gave me about what good writing is. That did happen, and it’s important (at least to me).

    Inner truth is a term writers use to convey deeper meanings that might transcend surface level facts. It’s a useful and important technique, but if you are serious about writing authentically, use it with care. Provide examples that authentically capture your personal experience rather than wildly exaggerating or reposting a fictional anecdote about Albert Einstein with your own thoughts on top.

    Tip 7: Review for Consistency

    The more you write, the more likely it is that people will engage with your writing multiple times. And once you create an expectation in your audience for authenticity, they will expect it every time you communicate. One post or LinkedIn article that deviates too much from who you really are, will cause you to lose many of the benefits you have gained from your previous efforts. So, if you commit to authenticity, really commit and make an effort to relay your true self consistently.

    Next week will be my last set of thoughts on this topic, with something that might seem counter-intuitive – how to use AI to improve the authenticity of your writing.


    Design of the Times

    If you have listened to our Humanity Working podcast, or followed me on LinkedIn for a while, you might know that I have a strong interest in something called Design Thinking. Design Thinking has been around for a while, and can be useful in many contexts, from designing products, through designing effective team and organizational structures, to reevaluating approaches to leadership.

    Recently, I released an article that looked at some of the underlying skills needed to become very good at design thinking, and the role that practice plays in developing those skills. I hope it will be a good read if you’ve been a design thinker for decades or if this is the first time you’ve heard the term. Check out the article here.

    First, the Bad News

    Video Length: 1 min 50 seconds

    It’s tough to hear negative feedback on ideas, but would you rather hear the feedback when it’s an idea, or when you’ve spent huge sums of money turning the idea into a product?

    Negative feedback is actually hugely valuable, provided you set yourself up to receive it appropriately, and create the conditions for other people to provide it. This week my animated twin below shares how you can do both. (Thanks to Zachary Rattner for inspiring this one)

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