Online educational course
ATD Blog

Music Industry and Keyboard Courage: What They Mean for Organization Development

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Courage shows up in all sorts of places and in all sorts of ways. Perhaps you’re singer-songwriter Taylor Swift and are rereleasing one of your most influential albums, Red (Taylor’s Version), to take back your narrative as well as control of your career. Or perhaps you find yourself engaging in more keyboard courage—the kind that has you saying things behind the safety of your computer that you would never say to someone’s face. It is this intersection of overzealous keyboard courage, Swift fandom, and forgotten humanity that provides a reminder for OD professionals of how we can use courage to help our organizations and clients navigate communication.

Swift has been rerecording her first six albums so she can own the masters. One of the songs is rumored to be about her ex-boyfriend, John Mayer, and it paints him in an uncomplimentary light. As a result, a Swift fan sent a direct message to Mayer on Instagram saying she hoped he choked on something (in the middle of a lot of other colorful language), as reported by US Weekly.

Now, US Weekly as a news source aside, the interesting part of this article was that the sender received a response from Mayer asking if this person really wanted him to die. The fan responded with a video in which she apologized, said sending the message was a dare, and said that she didn’t want him to die. Mayer responded he was OK, wished her well, and ended by asking her if the thought had occurred to her that he may see it and it may affect him.

While as OD professionals we’re unlikely to work with either Swift or Mayer, the takeaway is clear. It’s getting easier and easier for us to hide behind our toxic keyboard courage when we’re separated from the people and effects of our words. But real people do exist at the end of our messages, and our words have a consequences (whether positive or negative).

A 2020 study in the journal Group Decision and Negotiation found participants felt more trust and understanding in face-to-face settings for mediation than in online chat mediations. In the in-person environment, participants reported feeling more understood as well as also understanding and trusting the other party more. Even in a situation like mediation, seeing people reminds us of their humanity and of ours, and it leads to more effective communication.

It is our job as OD professionals to ensure the humanity of people doesn’t get lost in discussions of deadlines and deliverables, especially in the remote and hybrid environments. Not having in-person interactions can make it easy to fire off first-instinct emails, quickly react to a note so it’s off our plates, or just “tell them like it is.”

Since OD means looking at interventions at the individual and system levels, we have numerous places we can start the conversation (even when it may be tough) and strengthen the humanity in our workplace communications. Below are some courageous questions to consider in both buckets.


Questions to consider for individual employees:

How do they know what is expected of employees?

  • Do you provide training or written policies, procedures, or guidelines?
  • Are staff encouraged to use the right method of communication at the right time? In person or cameras on for important or tough conversations? Call directly after more than three emails on the subject? Texting for urgent matters only?

Do people have access to the communication tools they need to do their jobs?

  • Are the tools universal across the organization?
  • Do staff know what tools are available?

How do we respect people at work as whole human beings and not just employees?

  • Do they have the individual support they need?
  • How were communication practices updated to reflect individual needs as teams shifted to a remote or hybrid style?
  • How are they invited to share the nonwork parts of themselves to round out their humanity (as they’re comfortable)?

Questions to consider on an organizational level:

When was the last time we did an internal communications audit?

  • What are the tools we’re using to communicate?
  • Who has access?
  • Who is in charge?
  • What level of transparency is there around the tools, access, and urgency?

Is there an internal communications plan?

  • If yes, how is the example being set for tone and consistency?
  • If no, who is setting the example for how people treat each other internally through your communications?

What are our expectations of each other when it comes to communication?

  • What are our norms around email, virtual meetings, phone calls, texting, and chat channels?
  • How are those norms communicated?

What has been done to replicate face-to-face interactions when you’re entirely remote or in a hybrid environment?

  • How are you using cameras?
  • Can you use the chat function to increase participation?
  • Is there designated catching up or chatting time at the beginning or end of meetings?

Maybe, with a little compassion and understanding, we can find a little “State of Grace (Taylor’s Version).”

About the Author

With almost 20 years of management experience in fields including banking, associations and retail, Catherine Wemette (she/her/hers) has a unique perspective on how to get the best out of people. She started Good for the Soul LLC in 2014 to help organizations cultivate their talent and get results through coaching, facilitation, training and project management. As the chief goodness officer, she is responsible for helping others achieve their success and celebrating wins along the way. Most recently, she worked with the American Institute of Architects as their first Director of Employee Learning and Engagement, overseeing five years of continued growth in their employee engagement as measured by Gallup’s Q12 survey.

Prior to taking an association hiatus to work for her favorite shoe designer, John Fluevog, Catherine served as the membership director for the Licensing Executives Society (USA & Canada). Additional association experience includes the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) in chapter relations, membership and education departments.

Catherine is a life-long learner and an avid West Wing fan. In the theme of “what’s next?” she most recently earned her Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certification from the HR Certification Institute in 2020. She earned her executive certificate in Leadership Coaching from Georgetown and received her Associate Certified Coach (ACC) credential in 2020. She also received her Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential in 2009 and is a member of both the International Coaching Federation and ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership. She completed her Master of Public Administration with a concentration in nonprofit management from The George Washington University and graduated from Hope College in Holland, Michigan with a BA in communications and political science. In her spare time, she tries to figure out how a Minnesota girl ended up in Virginia with no snow for any sort of regular skiing (though she is a fan of the Virginia wineries, so it’s not all bad news).

Be the first to comment
Sign In to Post a Comment
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.