Oh Brenè… I love your work, I really do, but in content marketing across this wide brown land (and further afar, no doubt), people seem to be misrepresenting your message of bravery and authenticity. They’re skipping over the detail, instead seeing it as a licence to leak emotional waste in the name of vulnerability.
I’ve been thinking a lot of late about the concepts of emotional waste. I have been working with some incredible clients who are specialists in organisational culture to clarify their messages and create content that’s aligned to their broader values, business goals and vision- namely creating workplaces that enable people to be their best selves. They tell me that one of the common themes of poor culture is emotional waste, either from leadership, like in this almost unfathomable example, or from the team, or a mixture of both. In the current pandemic climate, the emotional waste that is leaking from individuals and businesses online is amplified- so much so that as someone with a naturally (annoying) largely sunny disposition I had to take myself off Instagram for a few days so as not to absorb it.
There’s a few definitions floating around about emotional waste, which I’ll leave for the performance psychologists, but basically, there’s a fair bit of energy expenditure that accompanies emotions. There’s two emotional reactions to a stressor- positive or negative- and both can be appropriate for the situation. You’ve heard that expression, it takes only 47 muscles to smile but 422 to frown? Not physiologically accurate, but you get my point. Well, it’s the same concept. When the emotions are negative, such as fear, anger, defensiveness, shame, and guilt, energy expenditure is high. Cortisol levels sky rocket. A problem arises when the processing of the emotion, particularly if it’s negative, isn’t done internally but rather manifests as venting, bitching, moaning, complaining and passive-aggression. This is emotional leaking and prolonged negativity can not only make us unwell, but if your colleagues and your audience are exposed to your leakage than you’re contributing to other people’s stress too.
So what does any of this have to do with communications and word sorcery?
Simply this: if the stories you are putting out through your communications are laced with emotional waste- again, fear, scarcity, misplaced anger, frustration, defensiveness, judgement- your ‘raw vulnerability’ could be very much a turn off. It robs people of a compelling reason to work with you, let alone engage with your content.
I’m not saying that everything in your content strategy must be rosy and perky and giggly. What I’m saying is there’s a fine line between authenticity and leaking emotional waste that damages your brand. We often can’t control what stressors are placed upon us, but we can control our reactions, and we can certainly control what we post online. Emotions are essential to our survival as a species, no doubt about it. Negative emotions in particular, anger and fear, are very real protective mechanisms. But is Instagram the right place to process your emotions?
Without proper processes to manage the shitty emotions that situations inevitably throw at us, they become toxic to us. When we vent, bitch and moan, ie leak emotional waste, they become toxic to those around us. When we leak via content marketing- boom! The effect is amplified.
Calmly and objectively processing a situation that’s raised negative emotions isn’t always easy, particularly if it goes against a long established pattern of behaviour. I remember a greeting card from the 90s that said Nothing nice to say? Come sit by me. I had a chat to my clients/mates who work in this field about this and how they support organisations to help their people leaking emotional waste. Basically, it comes down to strong self-awareness and self-reflection practices such as journalling, meditation, deep breathing or professional help such as therapy. You’re solely responsible for your reactions and actions. Be aware of your triggers, and press pause before you hit publish.
Tell me, do you think there’s a fine line between vulnerability and leaking emotional waste?
If you feel as though your messages are more reactive and less strategic, please reach out. I’d love to help you share your story authentically, but cleanly.
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This is a post in my Holly’s Story blog category. Each month, I share some insights, thoughts and behind the scenes shenanigans from my communications and writing for business adventures. If there’s something specific you’d like to know, please shoot me an email or give me a buzz, and I’ll do my best to help, or address it in an upcoming blog post or on my social media platforms.