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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Noticing 5 Common & Costly Internal Communication Mistakes


Internal communications is sometimes called the "neglected stepchild" of corporate communications. A sad outcome of that situation is that smart people make stupid mistakes that interfere with the success of projects, programs, and even entire organizations and sectors of service. For example:
  1. Usually internal communication plans totally ignore those who are not receptive, or who ask questions angrily. (Maybe they are justified?)
  2. I have heard the attitude expressed from some leaders/managers that they are trying to "protect" employees by not sharing information. They worry that morale will suffer if people can see behind the curtain. This leads them to choose words very carefully when they talk. All of the above of course makes it look like they are either hiding something or are out of touch with the issues.
  3. A bias against bringing emotion into the workplace, and against valuing emotion workers, means that communication is normally reduced to an image exercise (superficial) and the listening/interaction part (which should be the backbone of what you say) is reduced to pre-campaign "audience research" that sits on the shelf. (Socially we know that mothers are devalued and what is their primary job? Bingo - emotion work.) On a deeper level the outcome of ignoring emotion work - e.g. shoving generations of children into less-than-100%-loving-care before they are of school age - has in my opinion resulted in Generations X and Y looking to their bosses to demonstrate leadership behaviors that are more properly characteristic of parents. Which ultimately compounds the problem. 
  4. Methodology matters. It's hard to determine whether research is useful when findings and plans are based on assumptions about categories that may not hold up (like leader vs. manager vs. supervisor - the variables that separate them should be clarified and their audiences segmented). 
  5. It is common for the goal to be obscured and therefore for the communication to be meaningless. One unconscious reason this persists is that the clearer you communicate, the more disagreement you get in response (because you were clear, and people disagree). This is basic to branding - your ultimate message will appeal and should appeal to an audience and not the entire world. The "answer" (it will be implemented differently in every organization) is to decide what you are trying to accomplish, and orient the words around that - building in a risk plan for those who object. For example the communication may be more verbal than written, so that those objections can be talked through; there may be a transcript published of a Q&A session; the plan may need to be more inclusive and interactive and less one-way.
The outcome of ignoring emotion work, mistaken assumptions, and planning the work badly is that "actual" work - e.g. the project - doesn't get done and we sit around scratching our heads wondering why. It is worth taking the time to plan internal communication effectively.


Good luck!

(Adapted from a comment posted to GovLoop.com May 2, 2012)