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Wisdom is the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense and insight. And it’s a quality that would benefit everyone in the communications business.
Communications professionals who want to excel in their roles should make wisdom the base of creative and strategic thinking and the core of our relationship to the people surrounding us. We’d be more thoughtful, inclusive and understanding, things that are also wins for us as human beings.
Here are five factors that contribute to wisdom and are also part of the communications business.
Being curious throughout your life is an excellent sign you're on the right path to wisdom, as Judith Glück, a professor for developmental psychology, describes in her book “Weisheit” (German for wisdom).
For communications pros, openness to new things is crucial for our profession – especially on the agency side. Serving clients from a variety of sectors requires a natural curiosity for their fields and how they fit into society’s bigger picture. Communicators must frequently ask: “Why? How? When? Who?” And many more questions. Only by asking can we understand the industry and the client in a way that enables us to guide them through all sorts of comms tasks and challenges. So, it’s crucial to be curious. But it’s also fundamental not to be judgmental or bring in your own biases.
When we talk about ambiguity tolerance, we mean listening without bias and taking things as they are. But it’s also about carrying on – head held high and focused – even though you might have a murky picture of the situation or, in the worst case, no clue about the right thing to do. Ambiguity tolerance is a must-have for all wise people – you accept there are things you cannot control. There will always be things that happen outside your comfort zone and outside your value base. There is constant change in life, and it is often not easy to maintain a clear view on the right path.
Who in comms doesn’t understand this? Communicating around strategies that haven’t been thought through or navigating comms in crises demands calm and focus, taking things in stride making the best of them. It’s one thing to see the necessity of this characteristic – it’s another thing to actively live it. It’s tough, but it comes with practice.
Regulation of Emotions
Ambiguity tolerance doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to have emotions or feelings. It means controlling and regulating emotions in a conscious way.
Emotions are essential indeed, but they tend to overwhelm us from time to time, making a cognitive approach in communications often tricky. It’s not about shutting off emotions. It’s about handling them in a productive way and dealing with a situation in an unbiased way.
Taking a deep breath before reacting or sleeping a night before answering a challenging email – there are many tactics to help control emotions and keep a clear head. Finding the one that works best for you can be a complete game-changer in your career.
The fourth resource is described perfectly with the German word “Einfühlungsvermögen” – “the ability to feel or empathize.” Empathy is not to be confused with sympathy. To picture yourself in someone’s situation enables us to change perspective and to feel the strains someone is caught in.
If you can master this shift in communications, this can be the base for relatable, trustful and authentic approaches that make a difference to your target group. How is my key audience coping with the Pandemic? Where are the challenges and hardships, and what would make their life easier? If you feel it, you can create powerful connections that lead to business success.
To me, this skill is THE must have for every communications professional. Sensitivity, the ability to read between the lines, and a positive, curious attitude toward others support this key requirement for wisdom – and communication pros.
All this isn’t complete without the skill to reflect and understand complex interdependencies. Questioning yourself regularly enables you to see the bigger picture and locate angles that carry the ability to improve any situation. Transferred to the world of communications, this is the resource that catapults anyone from being caught in operations to becoming a strategist - a game-changer.
Understanding a shut-down of whole societies has specific effects on people’s behaviors, economical processes and political decision-making can give you a head start in creating the spot-on communication approach.
A great example is Budweiser’s campaign for Super Bowl LV. For the first time in a decade, the beer brewing giant chose not to create a video spot and instead opted to support COVID-19 vaccination efforts. With this choice, it made an impact that will save lives.
If you’re interested in more insights into wisdom science, check this out.
Heike Schubert, General Manager at Allison+Partners is based in the Munich office, from where she’s heading the A+P activities in Germany providing a broad range of communications services for clients operating in the DACH region.