The third of the trifecta, discretion, is undoubtedly the hardest to master. Communicating with discretion requires balance, precision and consideration - consideration of the chosen message and how it will impact the audience.
6 weeks ago I posted about Israel entering its third lockdown. As I mentioned then, my kids are happiest at school, socially and academically, so being home was a challenge. Complicating matters, the process to exit the lockdown lacked transparency. Last week, however, after much anticipation, the schools announced they would be opening and I shared the news with my kids. They were overjoyed. Sadly, though, the smile they fell asleep with quickly faded as they woke to the news that school would remain closed. My children were devastated. Several days later, after whispers, news articles and yet another official school text, I quietly celebrated and wondered how to tell them. The previous night had taught me to be cautious with my words so as I put them to bed I said, "they may be opening school tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, they are working hard to open it this week or next." They reacted - with caution and excitement. I continued, "remember guys, the announcements change all the time. But they are working hard to open school in a safe way and there is a chance tomorrow will work." They went to bed smiling and to my relief, my kids had a successful day at school. :)
In this example, discretion meant consideration...consideration of my children and how fragile they had become. I needed to design a message that was honest, yet reserved. A message that shared the truth but left some protection. In leadership, the same principles apply. A leader must adapt his/her words to communicate an honest message while reserving pieces of the message that may not serve the audience. Honest - yet, reserved.
So, if you are preparing a communication, how can you strike this balance? What techniques can you use? The most critical step is to examine your audience and process the news and/or challenges before sharing it with them. Consider how the news will be received by your audience and anticipate the scenarios that may play out. Only after you have gone through these steps can you begin to design your message. Essentially, take a minute before you respond so that you are not unpacking your emotions or forming a response live. This will help you identify what to share now and what to reserve for later.
Communicating with discretion can help your audience become aware of opportunities rather than afraid of the future. This is discretion done right.
This post is part of a series on leadership communication. Check out the other posts here: