The world of communication intersects with an administrative assistant’s life all the time, whether it’s a note from her manager to his subordinates or an important message to the entire company. Being somewhat familiar with the written word, I was happy to jump in and take care of basic communications for my manager. It was something I did well and I was happy to make those skills available to him…he, in fact, did not do it as well, so he always took me up on it.
The reason why he did not do very well at it wasn’t because he couldn’t form a complete sentence. On the contrary, I still consider him a genius and he was pretty darned good at everything he did. But he communicated in rambling sentences, giving away more detail than he needed, and the message suffered for it. And he didn’t understand that one very important communication “thing.”
A good communication taps employees’ emotions. It’s as simple as that, and yet so few communicators understand and use that knowledge to the company’s benefit. Many of them will tell you straight out, “I’m not writing a romance novel here.” But yeah, you kind of are…and it’s a romance between the employee and the company for which he works.
Let’s take, for instance, a communication that explains that a well-liked but inefficient executive is leaving the company to “pursue other interests.” That’s a hard message to write, because people are going to be sad (that he’s leaving), worried (about their own seemingly uncertain futures) and unclear (on the direction of the company). They’re going to know that this executive has been let go no matter how you express that detail, and they’re going to be angry with their company for doing it.
How do you conquer the employee emotions of sadness, worry, uncertainty and anger? With a little certainty and an optimistic view of the company’s future:
Minimize words to create a feeling of authority and control – I always use Jean-Luc Picard as my example for why a writer shouldn’t ramble on in a message. Jean-Luc could have told his crew, “You know, I’d like to move our blasters a little bit to the left and maybe increase our speed to warp 2 if we’ve got enough power, and then I feel strongly that we’ll catch that bad guy.” Nope. He said, “Engage!” Everything else fell into place and his crew knew what to do. Using a few well-chosen words conveys to your employees that you’re in control, that you know they know their jobs, and you’re confident the results will be as expected.
Don’t gloss over the details – An employee reading your communication is going to wonder, “Why?” and “What about me?” and he shouldn’t have to look far for the answers. Quell all their fears and give them the details they need to know. If any details should be conveyed privately, set up a schedule and ensure that those are passed along before a blanket communication goes out.
Address the elephant in the room, even if it’s only a subtle attempt – Yes, everyone is going to be angry that this well-liked executive has been asked to leave, but chances are a good many of them know that he was ineffective. You don’t have to say that, but you can say, “We wish him well in his next endeavors and thank him for his contributions.”
End on a positive note – This new organizational structure, minus the ineffective executive, is going to benefit the company because of X, Y, and Z. There should be no, “We think…” or “We believe…” involved in that. You made a decision, it’s for the best, and the result will be good. Give your employees a sense of confidence.
Be available for questions – Always, always, always leave your door open and invite discussion about events. Employees should be able to discuss their concerns with managers in private, or even in a public forum, if the situation warrants one.
Not all communications assuage negative emotions, but they all convey emotions. Some communications get the employees excited about where they work and what they do. Others serve to recognize employees who have made great contributions (and, conversely, incent other employees to strive for those same goals). All of them should serve to improve an employee’s engagement with his manager, co-workers and the organization, and that can only be done with…you got it….emotion.
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