In a world where someone can walk into a restaurant, shopping mall, or school and open fire on hundreds of innocent people, where jobs disappear overnight, where cancer appears suddenly on a scan, people grasp for order, stability, and control.
They demand the same from communication coming to them––the email, instruction, or announcement should make sense for them personally. Generic messages about change get ignored.
Be Specific and Concrete
Leaders use the following vague statements in many different scenarios––with a multitude of meanings.
“We’ll look into the situation and get back to you when we have a resolution.” When leaders toss this promise to a crowd during a crisis, they react, “We want to know now what you’re doing to find the resolution.”
“We’re sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused you. We’ll consider the situation and let you know if the policy warrants a change.” Customers may grin and bear it, but they won’t accept this generic template as a sincere apology—or expect a change.
None of these statements encourages listeners to change their mind or feel more positive about a change. In fact, these statements anger people, causing them to dig in their heels, and stall any proposed actions.
Drop the Doublespeak
People distrust what they don’t understand.
Much of what is written today in corporations and governmental agencies is not intended to inform employees. The writer’s purpose is to protect the organization providing the information. For example, take financial disclosures that accompany investments. Remove the jargon and what they say is beware: “This is a highly risky investment. We will not be responsible if things go wrong. If you invest in this, you could lose every cent!”
But if they made that statement so clearly and boldly, very few would invest in the venture.
Doublespeak persists as a protective shield. But gobbledygook also limits a leader’s influence and power in multiple ways: wasted translation time for employees, distrust, and confusion. Unravel the babble. Ditch the double-speak.
Avoid Making the Change Look Harder Than It Is
That’s not to say change is easy. Leaders who promise people that change will be easy become immediately suspect. People will think you’re either incompetent, crazy, or a liar.
When you’re trying to influence people to make a change, give them time to consider the request and make the commitment. Otherwise, you’ll have a “yes” answer and a “no” on the follow-through.
That said, some things really are easy—or at least worth the effort they require. Why make that change unnecessarily difficult simply by the way you communicate the change?
Rule #1 for change: Make the action you want clear. If it’s easy, say so. Pay attention to its physical layout on the page or screen to allow easy scanning.
- Use a simple font.
- Make subject lines useful, specific, and concrete.
- Provide informative headlines for easy scanning of instructions.
- Create an eye-appealing layout: short paragraphs, lists, bolding, color, adequate blank space.
- Replace text with images or video when images or video can tell the story more easily.
Communicating change in and of itself is difficult. Persuading people to change their mind or take action based on that change is harder still. The goal in communicating that change should be like creating user-friendly software––intuitive.