If you know any writers (or are a writer), you know we’ve got some strong opinions about words. We can get pretty passionate about where to put commas, how to capitalize headlines, and whether or not to start a sentence with “And.”
So, when you’re trying to make a large, organizational change—by instituting a new company-wide style guide, selecting a new author-friendly CMS, or something else that shakes up the status quo and slightly changes everybody’s jobs—things can get complicated very quickly.
So what’s a savvy large organization to do?
You want to give your writers a seat at the table when you’re choosing a new CMS, introducing new software, or standardizing the style guide they’ll be using every day. But you also want to avoid spending hours upon hours debating the merits of capitalization.
Here are a few ideas:
1. Start by asking questions.
First, both sides of an argument (no matter how bent out of shape either side gets about it) probably have some interesting insights. It’s important to start any project—be it creating a style guide, changing the format of your website, using a new software, or developing voice and tone—with a certain openness. Ask people for their opinions and dig deep.
You don’t just need to know what someone thinks; you also need to know why they think that. So take the time to ask those questions.
2. Make them feel heard.
The more I work with content, the more I see how emotional and volatile communication can be. We are all very attached to our words, our thoughts, our ways of doing things. It can be really discouraging, scary, and morale-killing to feel like we don’t have a voice.
So make sure that you not only ask questions and get people’s opinions, but you also take the time to let them know that you hear them and that you are on their side. Repeat back what they say to you. Ask clarifying questions. Listen intensely. And go ahead tell people outright that you are on their side. Say things like:
“One of our goals here is to make this process easier for you, the authors.”
“It’s important to me that the new CMS really works for you and fits your needs.”
“At the end of the day, we all want this content to be the absolute best it can be.”
Don’t get cheesy, but do let people know that they and their opinions matter.
And if you do, at the end, go in a different direction, make sure you explain why you went in that different direction…and let the group know that you heard and valued their input even if you had to make some compromises.
3. Always circle the conversation back around to the real point.
If you have a group of writers in a room trying to decide on style guidelines or the new blog format or what you need from your CMS, chances are there are going to be a whole lot of opinions—and maybe not all of them expressed nicely.
This is when it’s really important to always bring the conversation back around to the point.
It’s easy to get off track and start debating the Oxford comma or bemoaning the fall of the English language, but if the point is consistency, the Oxford comma conversation becomes a detail. You can diffuse some of the tension by taking things up a level—letting the team know that both sides have valid points, but what you’re here to figure out today is the one consistent (not “right”) way you’ll do things moving forward.
4. Give someone final say.
At the end of the day, you’re probably not going to get 100% agreement on how to capitalize your headlines or whether you should use bullets or numbered lists. Once you’ve heard what people have to say, someone is going to have to make tie-breaking decisions.
My advice is to identify and appoint this person early. Make sure they’re a good listener, a strong user advocate, and someone who has a detailed understanding of your overall content strategy.
And let the team know that you want and value everyone’s input, but for the sake of time and tiebreakers, this person will be making final decisions.
5. Lavish a little love on your writers.
They do important work and, chances are, they care a whole heck of a lot about that work. It’s always a nice touch when the end of the project comes with not only a brand new CMS, but also some recognition, a gift, or even just a personal note to say how much you appreciated their input.
Okay, your turn.
How do you wrangle your writers? How do you make sure projects get done amidst conflicting opinions? How do you make sure people’s opinions are heard and valued?
We’d love to hear from you in the comments.