Perfectionism In Nonprofit Communications: To Strive For Or Not?
This morning my Twitter feed led me to read The Dark Side of Perfectionism by Jay White. I found myself recognizing traits in myself, people I work with, even family and friends; striving for perfectionism, it seems, abounds in North American culture (maybe everywhere?)
But can someone who works in communications, who shares information that might be seen by millions, afford not to strive for perfection?
Perfectionism does pay off – in some areas. Any text that’s publicly visible – on websites, marketing materials, even Tweets – do need the eye of a “perfectionist” or at least a proofreader. Once, a nonprofit that works on “public education” missed the “l” in that phrase on a press release. You can imagine the results. But the flip side to this eye for detail is… word-smithing. Now, to be clear: there’s little I enjoy more than good writing. But I’ve often seen how nonprofit communicators end up writing and re-writing and re-writing and…
This is the type of perfectionism in nonprofit communications that ends up being counter-productive. You see: a few drafts are necessary, but the more you revise, the more you are likely to miss errors. Plus, we all know that this is how precious minutes (hours, days?) slip away forever.
Perfectionism in interpersonal communications – i.e. emails. This is a classic area on which we perfectionists spend way too much time. Or is it just me? The challenges with email, for me, are these: tone, brevity (I admit I spend too much time editing my emails!), and trying to build/maintain relationships. Some of our clients want no more than a one-line response; for others, the attention to niceties matters greatly.
Email is tough because it’s not one-size fits all, the way Facebook posts and Tweets might be. I don’t have a good answer for how to manage perfectionism in this area, but I’m learning that instead of laboring for hours on an email, sometimes dashing off a quick note, and then following it up with clarifications (or even apologies) seems to go down, err, perfectly.
Perfectionism in planning: just say no. Here’s an area on which engineers and I will disagree, but fortunately, I’m not building any skyscrapers. When planning projects, campaigns, events, that truism about the devil being in the details is well, true. But here’s the kicker: the details themselves don’t need to be perfectly right or perfectly complete. If one strives for perfection in planning, then there’s little room to go wrong and worse, there’s no room at all for evolution, iteration, to change one’s mind and plans.
In the world we live in today, we communicators need to be constantly tweaking. Change the caption on a Facebook picture and “likes” might go up. Tweet at a different time of day and you see surprising results. So, when it comes to perfectionism and planning: Having a plan is perfect. Having a perfect plan is not.
For me, learning not to be a perfectionist in communications (and life!) is a painful and slow work in progress. I’d love to hear thoughts on what you struggle with or how you deal with perfectionism as a nonprofit communicator!