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Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

Three Best Practices for Creating Effective Talking Points

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Before we go any further, this is not a post about the 2016 presidential election. I have nothing to add to the millions of words that have been written about the topic already other than, like many people, I wish it was over.

So, this post isn’t about political talking points, it’s about leadership talking points. If your organization is like most of those I coach, you’re likely undergoing some kind of significant change that affects the way people work, who they work with or, perhaps, whether they’ll keep working there at all.

Too often, leaders lay low in situations like this because they don’t want their words to get ahead of events or because they simply don’t know what to say. The problem with that is nature abhors a vacuum. In the absence of solid, authoritative information, people make up their own. Insecurity rules and rumors fly. The rumors are almost always scarier than the reality of the changes.

The way to avoid that situation is to take some time up front to develop some consistent talking points for your leadership team to use in conversations with their teams. You may not be able to provide all of the answers, but with a consistent set of talking points you can establish some context and perspectives that help people stay focused during times of change rather than churning in the rumor mill.

Here are three best practices for you and your leadership team to keep in mind when developing and using talking points on big change:

Define reality; offer hope: One of my favorite definitions of leadership is that it’s a two-part job. Part one is to define reality. Part two is to offer hope. That’s a good definition to keep in mind as you and your team develop your talking points. First, address the reality of your situation. What’s going on in the market or the world that necessitates change? What changes does your organization need to make to successfully meet those challenges? Then, describe why you have hope for the future. What will success look like after you make changes? What talents, resources, and assets do you have that give your organization an advantage? How does your history inform your future?

Use straight talk: As much as possible, develop your talking points in one or two brainstorming sessions with your leadership team. Don’t keep iterating and iterating through four or five rounds of drafts. When you keep iterating, you end up with meaningless mush that doesn’t say anything. Use straight talk. Stick with what you know to be true about reality and why you believe there are reasons to feel hopeful.

Converse, don’t lecture: And when you and your team get out there with your talking points, please have conversations and not lectures. As a reminder, conversations are when people talk with each other not at each other. They usually include open-ended questions like, “What’s on your mind?” “What are you hearing?” “How are you feeling?” and “What do you think we should do?” When used well, talking points are a guide for a healthy conversation, not a script that could be delivered by the Siri app on your iPhone. Don’t be afraid to engage your people.

No matter how big or small, change can be unsettling. You can make it less so and help keep your people on track with these three talking point best practices.

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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