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WBR: Find Your Voice

"Help." That's how the emails I get usually start.

The next line is something like, "I need help with report writing, because my reports are ______." That blank contains everything that's hard about report-writing. People tell me their reports are too long. They take forever to write. They worry their reports are not focused enough. Or deep enough. Or helpful enough.

They wonder if their reports are readable enough. If they're too full of jargon, or too short on empathy. Often they complain about 3 or 4 of these worries at once.

Those early in their careers say, "My reports sound like my supervisor wrote them." Those further along confess, "I haven't changed my report style in 20 years."

They tell me what everyone tells me, even though none of us talk about this. They tell me they feel shame. That someone in the field told them they write reports the wrong way. A supervisor told them their work isn't good enough. A discussion on a Facebook page made them think everyone else writes 3 reports a day. A colleague said she dictates masterpieces. A "guru" said he writes reports in 20 minutes, and every one of them is amazing.

It's heartbreaking hearing these fears so many have about their reports not being enough.

So in this post (part 1 of a 2-part mini-series), I want to share the first thing I do to help.

Here's how I start:

Let's not worry about what you think you're not doing enough of. Let's find what you do that's amazing so you can do more of that.

This post is about helping you find what you are amazing at. It's about finding your report-writing voice.

First, let's start with a definition of voice, and some reasons you want to spend time thinking about yours. Then we'll get to the fun part - finding and raising your unique voice.

What do I mean by voice?

I'm going to borrow a definition from communication stylist and general internet person Nikki Elledge Brown:

You already have a professional voice -- your unique way of writing reports.

It might be hidden or unconscious, or buried under layers of other people's voices. It could be suffocating under a pile of dense test descriptions and a mountain of jargon. It could be a quiet whisper you've never known to turn up.

But you have a natural way of communicating what a family needs to know. Things you naturally emphasize when you explain a kid's profile. Perspectives on test results you naturally take. There are ways you love to help those you work with.

This amazing voice already peeks through in your reports.

What we want to do is find that voice, polish it, and cut away anything that isn't it.

This is the solution to writing reports that feel like they are "enough." This is the way to banish that feeling of not being "good enough" (or only being good enough if you put 20+ hours into every 20+ page report).

Here are four other great reasons to find your voice:

  1. You'll automatically improve your reports Clearer communication is better communication. When you have a definite perspective, you'll focus your message. Your reports might get shorter, but more importantly, they'll get easier to write. You'll dial in on exactly what you want to say and how. You reports will also be easier to read. Your clients will also be happier (more on this later).

  2. You'll reduce your 'Imposter Syndrome' Imposter Syndrome comes from worrying you don't meet someone else's definition of good. You fear you'll be caught out. Exposed as not really who others think you "should" be. But if the definition of a good report is one that's in your own voice, then all you have to do is be yourself. You can't write a bad report this way. You can't fail to live up to someone else's standards. Being "good enough" comes down to being more of who you already are.

  3. You'll increase your job satisfaction It's hard to love your job if you worry you're not doing it right, or not doing it well enough. It's also hard to love your job if the expectations feel impossible. Or if you don't get to express who you really are in your work product. Finding your voice changes the rules of the game. You get to be more of yourself. You get to express more of who you are. It's easier. Faster. More energizing. You also attract the people who want more of you and the unique way you do things. No more struggling with trying to be everything to everyone.

  4. You'll enhance your marketing and networking Many people dread marketing to clients or networking with other professionals because they don't like to sell themselves. It feels awkward or sleazy. Or, you're held back by secret fears that you're not good enough. Or you can't think of anything that makes you "stand out." When you have a specific voice, marketing and networking is no longer about you. You're not trying to sell your worth as a person or professional. It's about how you help. Your perspective. The slant only you have. The way you share your view. You don't have to focus on your credentials, or location, or how cost effective you are. You get to focus on what is unique about the way you solve problems.

Convinced yet? Great. Now on to the fun part.

Let's figure out who you are and how you communicate.

The rest of this post talks about how to find your voice, while Part 2 focuses on how to raise your voice.

Let's Find Your Voice

I've read thousands of reports, and I've noticed some themes.

Most reports I read have one or two stand out strengths. Parts where the report truly shines. Times where the writer powerfully connects with the reader. Places where the writer's unique voice sparkles and pops.

These are usually times when the writer is laser-focused on their:

  • Passionate fight for the services and accommodations the child needs

  • Compassionate understanding of the child's journey

  • Clear and "big picture" explanation of the child's profile

  • Deep exploration of "whole child"

  • Creative or practical solution to the problem

  • Nuanced description of subtle features of the child's profile

  • Authoritative yet warm recommendations of what to do and where to go next

These themes roughly correspond to the themes in Sally Hogshead's 2014 book How the World Sees You: Discover Your Highest Value through the Science of Fascination.

The premise of her book is that your personality gravitates towards 1 or 2 "Advantages", or ways of being valuable to others when you're at your best. Her categories are Innovation, Passion, Power, Prestige, Trust, Mystique, and Alert.

Her book is a matrix: You find the two categories you naturally focus on (there's a quiz!), and then look up the description of your "Archetype." If you focus on Mystique first and Innovation second, your archetype is the Secret Weapon. Then you get to look up a description of yourself ("nimble, unassuming, independent") and learn how to leverage your strengths.

Let's update these advantages, and adapt them to the world of writing reports for families.

So, what personal advantages do you bring to your reports?

What's the best part of you that you give to the families you work with? Is it your empathy? Your creativity? Your clarity? Or your depth? Or is it your subtlety, or your passion, or your directness?

That advantage - or combination of advantages (most of us have 1 or 2, some of us have 3) - is your voice. All of them are amazing, and one or more of them is yours.

Here are the most common voices I've noticed again, and an archetype to go with them:

  • Advocates are passionate. If you're an advocate in your reports, you're alert, proactive, and organized. You're all about making sure a child doesn't "fall through the cracks." You come prepared, and always have supporting evidence to back up your conclusions. You're willing to fight for what's right.

  • Empaths lead with compassion. If you're an empath in your reports, you're warm, enthusiastic, and intuitive. Your strengths are connection and sensitivity. You truly know what it's like to be "in the shoes" of those you work with. You tune in to how families are feeling, and listen for the stories they tell.

  • Explainers embrace clarity. If you're an explainer in your reports, your communication is always clear, accurate, and expert. You know your stuff, and you explain it using vivid words and metaphors. You can connect with any audience. Families can count on you to help them truly understand their child.

  • Explorers value depth. If you're an explorer in your reports, you're thoughtful and analytical. You ponders ideas and puzzles in great depth, yet can articulate these big ideas to others. You always think before you speak, and you're known for your astute insights. There's always another layer deeper with you.

  • Problem-Solvers are innovative and practical. If you're a problem-solver in your reports, you're creative, flexible, and focused. Others look to you for new ideas and solutions. You're willing to be bold, take risks, and try new things. Your work is timely and sharp. You dial in to what's needed most.

  • Detailers are nuanced and subtle thinkers. If you're a detailer in your reports, congratulations, because you have a loyal following who admire your thorough and conscientious approach. Others trust you. They know you always produce impeccable work. You never cut corners.

  • Connectors are authoritative. If you're a connector in your reports, you are confident, decisive, and genuine. You're outgoing and love to connect people. You give great advice. You're quick at reading people. You have a reputation as an expert. You provide families with specific referrals and a "warm hand-off" to the next provider.

Does one of those fit you? Or maybe two of those descriptions?

If so, does that voice come through the way you want in your reports?

For many, your voice is already in your reports..... somewhere.

The shining crystal of your natural style is hidden underneath all the layers you don't need. The gorgeous tones of your singular style swirl in that cacophony of words in your reports. I know your voice is in there, though, because these are the places where your reports come alive. Where your self and your perspective breaks through. We just have to find that voice and turn it waaaaaaaay up.

For others, your voice may be silent right now.

Maybe you have to write your reports a certain way because of the setting you're in. Maybe your natural voice was metaphorically beaten out of you a past supervisor. Or maybe you thought there was only one "right" way to write reports, even though it sure doesn't feel "right." If you don't have a voice right now, don't despair, because the news is good: You get to invent one.

The easiest way to find or invent your voice is to read those descriptions above and see if one or two of them leap out at you.

If the answer doesn't come easily, though, ask yourself: If I could write my reports any way I want, or in the way that is most true to who I am,

(1) What questions would my reports answer? and (2) How would I like to answer those questions?

The questions you most want to answer, and way you most want to answer them, will tell you your style.

Check out the infographic below. (It's impressive, right?)

Which of these questions sound like questions you automatically and naturally ask yourself during your evaluations? Which sound like the questions you answer in your best reports?

Hopefully by now, one or two of these styles feel like a match. If so, great, you've found your voice! You can stop reading how and wait for Part 2 of this post.

But what if you're still not sure which report-writing style best reflects your voice?

Try these strategies:

  • Ask yourself what is the most important element of your evaluations. If you could only accomplish one goal in an evaluation, which one would it be?

  • Ask yourself which personality traits best fit you. Who are you as a person, and how does that come through in your professional roles? What kind of psychologist are you? If you could only pick one or two set of adjectives from the graphic above, which ones capture something of your essence?

  • Ask a friend or colleague what your natural style(s) are. You might be surprised at how easily they answer!

  • Ask someone you don't know well to read a report or two of yours and give you feedback on your style. Let them search for the hidden heart of your reports. (Don't have a stranger handy whose itching to read your reports? You can always ask me.)

  • Look through a recent report. Read the summary and see what it's saying, at it's deepest level. Compare to the samples below. Which one sounds most like you?

Our next infographic is a short snippet from a report written in each of these different voices. They are all about Andi, a student with dyslexia. They're all accurate, they're all useful, and they're all written at about the same reading level.

Which one sounds most like you (or who you want to be) as a report-writer? Which of these elements would someone always find in one of your reports?

Have you found your voice now?

Perfect. In Part 2 of this series (Raise Your Voice), we'll talk about how to refine your voice, and how cut away anything that isn't your voice.

Until then, leave a comment below: What voice is yours? What would embracing your voice mean for you? How would it change how you write reports?

Note: This post is written with a 5th grade reading level. 14 of 235 sentences are hard to read or very hard to read. There are 5 uses of the passive voice.

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