I love fairy tales. My sister is 10 years younger than I am, and so I got to relearn all the nursery rhymes, fables and fairy tales with her, during her early childhood. I introduced her to my favourite children’s books and we shared the new ones we discovered together. The perspective of experiencing them again as a tween, and then teen, was very different from hearing and reading them as a child. I was fascinated by the genre to the point where, when I got to university, I took all the “Child Lit” courses available.
Fairy tales teach about life and loss, the reversal of fortune, the importance of using one’s “wits”, possessing intelligence, the rewards of doing right, doing a good turn, telling the truth and about the possibility succeeding even when starting out disadvantaged. And most of all, they teach optimism because no matter how many bad things happen, everything turns out right for the hero, all the stories have a “fairy tale ending”.
Fairy tales also have valuable lessons for good communication.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf and Chicken Little
Don’t lie, don’t sound false alarms, don’t exaggerate. Be accurate, stay calm and keep your head about you. State the facts, provide the context and avoid ambiguity in your communication. Ambiguity is the breeding ground for speculation and rumour, both are damaging and hard to control/reverse. Resist making implications, it allows others to draw their own conclusions, which may not be the ones you desired.
Don’t repeatedly address an issue. Repetition decreases the relevance, interest and may impact credibility. Carefully craft what you want to convey, you get one kick at the can. Only significant new information might allow you to reopen the topic.
The Three Little Pigs
Think ahead, plan for the worst, build better, stronger and true until what you have is solid and can withstand possible adversity. Ensure a good understanding of what you’re up against and benefit from the experience/mistakes of others. Have a good, complete communications plan, include a contingency for crisis management and make sure everyone is in on it.
The Princess and the Pea
No matter how small the problem, someone will find it. Bury matters in many levels of obfuscation and camouflage, and still some intrepid journalist will find the kernel of evasion. And you know the result of avoidance, it smells like untruth and you end up like “Chicken Little” or the “Boy Who Cried Wolf”. Suck it up, be upfront, admit to the mistake, wrongdoing, problem, issue, state how you are correcting/dealing with it and move on. Within a short time, so will everyone else.
The Emperor’s New Clothes
Don’t engage in self-delusion. Be real. See what is there, not what you want to see. Make sure you have a “little child” to provide you with a reality check before you go forward in your communication endeavours.
It’s crucial that your communications have substance. Fluff and fillers work for quilts and pillows, but people see through this stuff. It’s what turns journalists off press releases and decreases the chances of your information being used.
Don’t be self-focused, have an understanding of your context. You are not the only person in the kingdom and just because you’re the boss, doesn’t mean you are the most important person in the organization (whoops, did I really write that?). Get the help and opinion of multiple sources. Life is a team sport. Relying on a single source may reassure you, but will certainly skew your perception dangerously. Basing action on questionable information will distort your objectives, strategies and plan. Any resulting action, communication included, will be warped.
People can tell when you are lying. And the more you try to talk you’re way out of a situation, the more they will notice. The longer it goes on, the more your credibility suffers. Think of some of the most famous public figure PR crises: Yahoo’s former CEO Scott Thompson with his padded résumé; Anthony Weiner’s tweeting fiasco; or The Bill Clinton – Monica Lewinsky “Affair”. The truth may not always be comfortable or pleasant, but truth is an absolute necessity for any possibility of continued trust and confidence.
The Little Gingerbread Man
Don’t be naive. Try to avoid being placed in a position where you are dealing from a point of weakness. Be careful with whom you make a deal and try to carefully asses their motives. Otherwise, it may come back and bite you in the ass. Literally!
These are the obvious lessons from some of the best known fairy tales. Do you have any to add? Tell me, what have you learned from fairy tales?