Tone of voice

How to reach a consensus

Can't agree on your brand's tone of voice? Here's what to do...

Felicity Wild

Consensus, and helping teams reach it is a big part of what I do. Whether it’s how their brand sounds, the things they say, their strapline, their values or the best way to explain their services—it’s my job to find something everyone (or almost everyone) agrees on.

Often, they’ve spent months (sometimes years) talking round in circles without landing on anything that fits. By the time I’m brought in, they can’t see the wood for the trees and have lost all perspective on the original question.

Sound familiar? Yeeeah, you’re not alone there.

So, how do you break up the log jam and find a productive way forward? I don’t know about you, but here’s how I do it.

Get a fresh pair of eyes  

When you reach an impasse, the first thing to do is get a fresh pair of eyes on the problem. Ideally, someone external like me who can approach things without any preconceived notions.

Or, if this isn’t possible, at least someone internal who is far enough removed from the issue to have some objectivity (and who won’t bring their own agenda to the table either).

Approach the problem from a different angle

If your team’s been stuck on a problem for a while, chances are you’ve been rehearsing the same old arguments over and over which have got you firmly lodged in a rut.

To wiggle yourself free, it’s time to ask different questions and approach the issue from new angles. This can also help ease the tension and add some fun back into proceedings if past discussions got a little spicy.

Say it’s your brand’s tone of voice you can’t agree on. Instead of asking each other how your brand should sound, try these questions:

  • What famous personality might your brand remind you of?
  • If your brand was a person and they walked into a room, what are the first things you’d think about them?
  • When people interact with your brand, how do you want them to feel?

If it’s your brand values you can’t agree on, rather than asking what these are it might be more productive to ask:

  • If you were looking to hire someone, how would you know they’re a good fit for your team? And a bad fit?
  • What makes you proud to work here?
  • What’s the most important or significant piece of work you’ve done here, and why?

Ideally, this conversation is guided by the neutral third party you identified in the first step. Make sure everyone has an opportunity to contribute and remember, there’s no such thing as a wrong answer. You’re playing around here and exploring ideas.

Look for common themes 

It’s a good idea to record your workshop or conversation so you can revisit it later, and you can stay present rather than desperately scribbling notes. It also means you can get it transcribed which is crucial for this next step.

Listen back to the conversation with the transcript in front of you and highlight different themes (in different colours) as they pop up. 

Once you’ve gone through the whole transcript, you can see how often different themes occur. There’s that famous quote about having more in common than we have difference, and you might well find the same is true here. It’s surprising how much a team that couldn’t reach a consensus actually agrees with each other if you listen carefully!

Find your way forward

The next and final step is very simple—the themes that occur most often are your way forward out of this mess. 

If it’s a strapline you’re working on, it’ll be the top one or two. If it’s tone of voice or values, you’re probably looking for the top five that give a nice even spread of everything that was covered.

Once you’ve identified these you can flesh them out into fully formed ideas, ready to present back to your team to sighs of relief all round—finally, you’ve found something that works!

Felicity Wild
Founder and chief tone of voice nerd

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Hi, I'm Felicity Wild

Founder & Chief Tone of Voice Nerd

I started Tone of Voice Nerd because too many of my clients were investing in vague tone of voice guides that didn’t help their team, or freelance copywriters like me, write good copy.  

I knew I could do a better job and produce tone of voice guides—or brand voice blueprints, to use their fancy name—people would actually find useful.  

They're designed to give you clarity on how to speak to customers, the confidence to communicate who you are as a business and the tools to present the value of what you do to the world.

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