We often screen out what they don't want to hear

Nobody told me…

Human beings often screen out what they don’t want to hear, or what they are not ready to hear. No matter how vociferous you have been, you will always find someone who says, “Nobody told me!”

So what implication does this have for internal communications? Three strategies spring to mind:

  1. Get sign off from staff to say they have received and understood information. At some stage you might need proof.
  2. Take an iterative approach, so that key messages are repeated. Try delivering the same message through different channels, or presenting it differently, to prevent boredom setting in.
  3. Make sure your strategy includes preparing people to receive information. Listening is often overlooked. Listen proactively, acknowledge emotions and ideas and receive feedback. Get staff actively involved and engaged to help them be receptive to your messages.

Communication can be about timing. Staff who are informed in advance are more likely to be excited and motivated than staff who find out about developments accidentally or through the media. It is not surprising that staff feel shocked or become angry if they find out about significant changes through a media announcement. They may feel they have lost face (which can be devastating, especially in some cultures). We all concede that there are many occasions when staff simply cannot be informed of everything. But what can you do to assist? One avenue may be to organize a staff briefing that occurs at the same time as a public announcement. You need to get your timing right, so you don’t make a bad situation worse by appearing to be insensitive or tardy.

When staff become aware of impending change, this is the time when leaks spring and the rumor mill fires up. When this happens, keep communication channels open, communicate up, down and across the lines of communication, and prepare managers well.

Effective communication is ongoing, two-way, and targeted. Brief is good. Don’t bog staff down with lengthy missives. They are busy enough with their work and dealing with the changes, without having to decipher complex, lengthy or irrelevant reports.

You can’t avoid the fact that sometimes you have bad news to communicate. If you have built up trust, communicate honestly and clearly, and have in place strategies to cope with staff reactions (loss, grief, dismay), then you and your staff are in the best position to deal with the situation in a productive and dignified way.

Keep communicating even when a change project is reaching its final stages. Make sure you see it through. Reinforcing new skills, practices or behaviors is a vital part of embedding the change. Don’t let staff revert back to the old ways by cutting the communications cord too soon.

This is part 7 in the 11 part Series: Tips to Communicate Change Effectively to Staff

This series is based on an article by Communications specialist Sarah Perry. Sarah is a Director of Snap Communications, http://www.snapcomms.com, a company which provides specialist Internal Communications tools and Employee Communications Solutions.

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