The Goldilocks Effect in communications


If you’re a communications professional, I’m willing to bet that you’ve come up against what I call the “Goldilocks effect”. That is, working with internal or external clients who can’t or won’t articulate what they want, but rather will only share what they don’t want.

You know the drill: This one’s too hot. This one’s too cold. This is too hard. This is too soft. Then how the !%*@ do we get to the one that’s JUST RIGHT?

This kind of dynamic is endemic to our industry. Some of your clients may even be so bold as to say they’re not quite sure what they want to see in their blog/brochure/website/poster, but they’ll know it when they see it.

For the sake of your sanity and for our profession’s reputation, it’s at this point when you need to stop and remind yourself of the #1 rule of the strategic communicator:

Do not accept the conditions that have you set up to fail.

Think about it: An architect would not accept a client’s vague request to design a house, and blindly hope that the plans meet their needs. A hairdresser would not start snipping without knowing what the client is looking for as a result. A surgeon would not begin to operate without first being very sure of the goal of the procedure.

So why is it that every day, communicators routinely accept half-baked, somewhat random and sometimes ridiculous requests to produce “stuff” without making sure they have a reasonable chance of succeeding?

I think it’s a combination of three factors:

  1. We are too nice
  2. We chronically suffer from a systemic credibility deficit
  3. We lack confidence and often feel we are just making this shit up without appropriate training or experience

This, of course, sets up a most unfortunate self-fulfilling prophesy: the lack of clarity and common direction sets communicators up to fail.  The best they can do in these murky conditions is to produce mediocre, vanilla products in an attempt to feed the beast. Not surprisingly, this kind of performance then leads to dissatisfied clients – a cycle which merely serves to reinforce the gaps in confidence and internal credibility.  Before you know it, BAM, we’re right back to where we started.

In my experience, the quickest way to turn this around is to fire up your spidey senses for anything that looks, feels and smells like a Goldilocks situation. Anytime those senses start tingling, use strategic questions as your arm and your shield to get the information you need to be set up for success. These Top 10 Questions in Strategic Communications are a good place to start.

The top 10 questions in strategic communications

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