How might embellishing your community’s success backfire?

By: Paula Jensen

Most passionate community leaders communicate with the best intentions and are genuinely excited about sharing publicly and celebrating success in their communities. In fact, one of the main questions I get when I coach community leaders is, “How can I encourage people in my community to get more excited and engaged in the work we need to accomplish in our town?” I start by telling them it’s unlikely anyone in your town will have the exact level of passion as you do about the same things you’re excited about. It’s all about each person finding their own passion and following it.

But to get more people excited and engaged, I’ve noticed a recurring theme among passionate community leaders, especially with social media. We tend to exaggerate. I’m among the guilty. For example, every event in town isn’t the “BEST EVER!!!”. Not every social media post about your community needs three exclamation points!!! From an opposing perspective, it’s also easy in today’s divisive environment to be overly negative with our communication. Not every community is dying and in crisis mode — so stop saying those words when speaking or writing about your own community.

These kinds of statements lack facts and are misleading. If you’re like me, you don’t intend to be insincere. The embellishments simply overflow from the passion flowing inside you about your community. The danger with embellishments, however, is they can backfire. Badly. I’ll give you four ways embellishing your community’s success can backfire.

One. Passion detached from facts moves people backward, not forward. Embellishments are exaggerated statements not meant to be taken literally, but people often do. Making statements like, “We PACKED.IT.OUT at the community gathering Thursday night!” confuses reality. If by PACKED.IT.OUT you mean 35 people attended the event at the community hall for a conversation about future priorities, then just say that. Having facts repeated publicly is better than people self-interpreting your message and telling their own story.

Two. Leaders who consistently exaggerate diminish the real celebration of progress in your community. When everything is THE GREATEST!!! then nothing is the greatest.

Three. From a negative perspective, saying over and over, “If we don’t act NOW the community is DOOMED, and we will have nothing to offer anyone in the future!” might not be the best strategy. Negative embellishments tend to become a self-fulfilling prophecy in communities and usually have a multi-generational life cycle. Sadly, when opportunity does arise at a time in the future it becomes much more difficult to re-engage people to work toward success.

Four. Leading with embellishments eventually lowers the community to a game of one-upmanship. If the community down the road has a big event, then the temptation is to one-up them. They invite [insert big name] to headline the summer bash, so you invite [insert bigger name]. This kind of competition diminishes the uniqueness of each community and puts up barriers for working together when a big project arrives in the region.

Passion-driven communication comes with all the best intentions, yet you can only use crisis language or exclamation marks for so long before people stop listening or participating. You may draw a crowd the first time you say, “Be here tonight — it will be our biggest event ever!!!” But as you overuse this tactic, the result will be inevitably less than the previous time. In the long run, generating community excitement and engagement with embellishments will backfire with the effect of declining returns.

About the author

Having a passion for community leadership and development is what drives Paula Jensen’s personal and professional life. Paula resides in her hometown of Langford, South Dakota, population 318+. She serves as a Strategic Doing practitioner, grant writer and community coach with Dakota Resources based in Renner, South Dakota. Dakota Resources is a mission-driven 501c3 Community Development Financial Institution working to connect capital and capacity to empower rural communities. Contact her.

Published On: December 16, 2021Categories: News & Notes

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