Best Practice

How to practice awareness, sensitivity, and empathy in internal communications

While many organizations are going above and beyond to practice awareness and sensitivity during this time when it’s needed most, there is still room for improvement.

 In a Poppulo poll conducted during a recent webinar, we found that 43% are very pleased with how their leadership has been communicating, while 49% are pleased but think there’s room for improvement. Five percent believe leaders could do a better job, and 3% believe that they’ve done a terrible job.

Additionally, 43% of respondents said the one thing leaders could do to improve employee communications during this time would be to demonstrate greater empathy, authenticity, and humor.

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Here are five ways communication experts, Kristin Brownstone and Alyssa Hagan, advise team leaders to improve their employee communications.

1. Take stock of your employees’ experiences

Now more than ever, it’s vital to take advantage of two-way communication. Ask your employees how they are doing, listen, and respond appropriately. Additionally, talking to only a couple of employees doesn’t cut it.

There is a vast diversity of experiences across your employee base.

Brownstone elaborated on this issue, noting: “Some people are alone in their house, and they’re dealing with isolation. Some people are managing kids and trying to be teachers as well as do their job.

Some people are dealing with illness. There are also some people who are energized by high stakes situations. And then there are other people who find it exhausting and overwhelming, and terrifying.”

To craft sensitive messages, leaders can’t make general assumptions about what their employees are going through. They must find out how most of their employees are doing and remain sensitive to the diversity of experiences.

2. Personalize communications to different groups

It’s common for organizations to have different groups of employees. For example, some employees may work in the office, others may work from home, and another group may work in the field. 

Personalizing communications for different groups of employees means accommodating everyone by sending updates via multiple platforms so that employees can choose where to receive information.

Your employees also have different challenges. Some employees are struggling with childcare, others are experiencing economic hardship, and some are more affected by the current political climate than others. 

Once you know what your employees are dealing with, work to send personalized communications that address individual concerns.

3. Provide space for all voices

Executives are used to controlling the content of internal communications. However, to truly engage with employees in meaningful ways, it’s time to share the spotlight. 

For example, if you’re addressing issues related to race or ethnic diversity, you need to provide a safe and encouraging platform for your employees to lead the conversation.

Additionally, consider finding ways to include employees’ experiences in your email newsletters and mobile app communications.

4. Ask for feedback

Kristin Brownstone explains that now presents a unique opportunity for leaders to shine. She also says, “how leaders lead during this time will be remembered well beyond the timeframe of the crisis.” But, how can leaders shine during a time of crisis?

Alyssa Hagan says executives can lead by giving employees a voice and asking for employee feedback. When you send out an internal communication (e.g., video, email, app update), follow up by eliciting honest feedback from your employees. Employees want to be heard and are willing to share.

Not only that, but they want you to make changes based on what they share.

5. Use humor when appropriate

Not every communication has to be serious, even during times of crisis. After all, laughter is the best medicine. Consider the timing and the tone of your communications, but don’t be afraid to bring a little lightness to your messages. Even the New York Times and The Atlantic say a little humor is healthy right now. But, what exactly is appropriate and what isn’t?

Kristin Brownstone provides a fun example of appropriate levity. An executive she knows “would put a little toy in the background of her home office during meetings, move it, or bring a different toy. When people got on a call with her, they knew there was going to be something fun to look for.”

When it comes to using humor, make sure your jokes are something the whole group will enjoy. It’s funny to laugh at situations everyone can relate to, but it’s never funny to laugh about appearances, sexuality, religion, socio-economic status, or ethnic heritage.

Now is a great time to rise to the occasion and improve your internal communication strategy. As you work to be empathetic and include more voices, you’ll find employees responding positively. And, maybe even enjoying a laugh while things are tough.

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