Real life at the communication crossroads: Creating courage

What do you see in your mind’s eye when you hear the word courageDo you picture the firefighter, walking into the wall of flames when everyone else is running the other way? Or the extreme sports expert, defying gravity and risking death to achieve a certain level of awe? Or the internal communication leader who decides to miss a deadline because the project isn’t on the right track?

Wait—what??

Hold up a minute. Yes, the first two images are ones we typically classify as courageous or brave. But the third? Rarely do acts of defiance in our workplace get called out in the same awe-inspiring manner.

And yet, those deliberate, everyday acts of courage are becoming more vital, especially in the world of professional communication.

If ever there was a time that called for communicators to accelerate their courage, this is it.  

Why now? The communication crossroads

The casual observer knows that the tactics of communication continue to shift dramatically. Today’s professional isn’t just leveraging a multitude of social networks, but she’s trying to comprehend new delivery systems such as bots and other artificial intelligence-driven tools.

As dramatic as those changes seem, they’re not the reason we need more courage.

The real reason is that professional communication is increasingly perceived as a commodity.

What’s a commodity?

A commodity is something that’s like everything else in its category—perceived by leaders and other financial decision-makers to be interchangeable and replaceable.

We’ve seen commoditization happen in many traditionally high value professions, such as human resources, information technology, and even security. And we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t admit it’s happening to professional communication, too.

The irony is that at a time when high-impact communication results are in more demand than ever, professional communicators are struggling to have the high impact they know they can make.

That’s why it’s time for more courage at work. Now.

But how? Follow these three strategies.

How do we speak up more, push back, and challenge our corporate comfort levels in ways that motivate real change and real progress?

How do we resist the busy-ness of business, just executing and executing without meaning or impact?

How do we hold our breath and dive into the important burning issues in our companies and communities—without risking our careers and the success of those around us?

To start applying more courage in your life at work, try these three strategies.

1. Be clear on what matters.

In a world trying to find its balance between inclusion and exhaustion, you can’t be all things to all people.

It’s more essential than ever that you do the work to know what issues, behaviors, and values are important to you—and not just your company.

For example, are your relationships the most important thing? Then take a risk advocating on behalf of your colleagues or clients. Is creativity your driving force? Push harder to show the team a different way of thinking.

If you’re trying to accelerate your courage, your effort must connect to something deeper that’s of value to you. Getting clear first helps you decide which dragons to slay—and which ones to let lie.

2. Get comfortable with discomfort.

Does challenging an internal client or colleague make you nervous? Does saying “I don’t agree” in public give you hives?

Good news—you’re human.

And this is what we know about humans: discomfort is where the growth is.

Your bicep only grows after that third set of curls when it’s exhausted and quivering. Our courage biceps work the same way.

Start to notice and acknowledge when discomfort pops up. Let yourself feel dumb, lost, or confused. Resist the urge to wriggle away from those feelings. It’ll be okay.

Learn to be okay with that off-center, unbalanced, out-of-whack place—it’ll be the source of the courageous growth you want.

3. Practice makes progress.

In my fantasies, I’m bold, creative, experimental. Fearless. Tireless.

In reality, I only have so much energy. So much time in the day. And experimental? I’m sorry—that hot new idea will need to wait until the staff meeting’s done.

We can’t expect to have all the courage we want instantly. Like any good habit we’re developing to be better leaders and even better people, it’ll take time.

We can stop trying to be perfect and instead, practice in little bits, every day. We can take small steps, stretch, test.

Maybe we won’t experience superhero leaps all at once. But as author and University of Houston researcher Brene Brown says, “courage is contagious.”

Start flexing your courage muscles today, so others can follow. The communication profession—as well as your company, your colleagues, and your world—need you now more than ever.

Learn more from Darcy Eikenberg in her session “The career courage challenge: How to be brave in your work (without being stupid)” at the IABC World Conference, happening 3—6 June 2018. Register today

About the author

Darcy Eikenberg helps high-performance leaders and teams manage through constant change with more clarity, confidence, and control—plus a bit of courage thrown in to handle today’s complex life at work. Working with companies such as The Coca-Cola Company, State Farm, Deloitte and others, she brings her clients a practical, real-world perspective that creates business results with a touch of humor and heart. She’s the author of Bring Your Superpowers to Work and blogs at RedCapeRevolution.com.

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