← IC Matters · Engagement

What do communication and common sense have to do with each other?

Agnes ZeinerAgnes Zeiner·

In one of my last jobs, I was responsible for drafting the CEO’s regular letter to all employees.

One of the things that still sticks out in my mind from that time is something the Head of Communication once said to me: it wasn’t appropriate to use phrases like ‘I hope’ or ‘I am excited’ or ‘I am happy’ in communications from the CEO.

My reaction must have shown how incredulous I felt after hearing this because he added – patronizingly – “A CEO always has everything under control. Using expressions such as these undermines the trust of employees in management”.

Hmmm… ok… well, he had to know, I thought, as he was in constant contact with our CEO, whom I rarely met. But what I had just been told was completely at odds with the impression of the CEO on any of those rare occasions I met him. He always seemed very ‘normal’ and I was always captivated by his cordiality and warmth.

In short, what my supervisor wanted me to write simply did not correspond to the reality I experienced. But the boss is the boss, and he’s right – which he made quite clear to me after a short discussion. So nothing for it but to do what I had been told, hopefully without my spirit being crushed.

Internal communication is not the same as transparency

If internal communication is established in a company – either reporting into another department or as a stand-alone function itself –  it means that the value of direct communication with employees is recognized and valued.  That’s good, at least.

Unfortunately, this does not mean that the value of transparency has been recognized as well. Too often there’s still a corporate mentality (but thankfully it’s diminishing) where the feeling is that the communication box has been ticked just because employees are given carefully filtered information that suits the company.

“Hey, we’ve given you the information, you’re being kept in the loop, now please get back to work with even more energy so we can increase sales”. Sounds familiar?

Communication and esteem

I think communication – both its content and how it is delivered – has a lot to do with appreciation.

Especially we communication experts, who deal daily with how we best convey a certain message to a certain target group via which channel, know about the value of target-oriented communication.

And that, when done correctly,  it not only “arrives” at the recipient, but is also appreciated.

After many years in corporate communications, from personal experience and observation, from conversations with friends and colleagues, I am wondering: can we sometimes lose our common sense in light of the many communication possibilities that are available?

Do we concern ourselves so much with target group-oriented communication when it comes to “institutional communication”, that the personal connection we should have with our colleagues falls by the wayside?

Pros and cons of the written word

Every form of communication has its justification at its time and in its context.  Thus, as a passionate writer, the last thing I would want to do would be to undervalue the role of written communication.  

It is indispensable to ensure that information reaches the audience directly and unfiltered; that each recipient receives the same, relevant information, over geographies and time-zones.

But as a copywriter, I also know how easy it is to hide behind what you write. (Like now, while I’m writing this article; it’s much easier for me than standing in front of you, leaving myself exposed to possibly critical glances!)

But what does it mean for the culture in a company if (almost) only written communication takes place?

My very personal “Walk the talk”

How much real connection is there in our daily communication with colleagues? How much thought do we give to what form of interpersonal communication is appropriate when we are working through our “to-do list”, which is always too long?

The colleague sitting next door sends me an e-mail; the guy from the same floor chats via Skype to me, and the boss communicates with me on WhatsApp.

Each of these messages can be justified, but we all know that moment when you ask yourself, “Why doesn’t he just tell me that? Am I just here to do tasks?” And that’s the moment you get really annoyed!

So I did a little experiment: instead of slipping into angry mode I decided to ask my colleagues about why they chose to communicate with me as they had done.

The reactions were interesting and extremely varied:

  • “I didn’t want to bother you with a phone call” (Can’t I decide for myself whether to pick up the phone?)
  • “I didn’t have time to come by.” (Writing an email usually takes longer than taking a few steps.)
  • “The subject is so complex, I’d rather write it.” (Too complex to give me the opportunity to ask back?);

And then my all-time favorite:

  • “I wanted it to be off my to-do list.” (Thank you so very much!!!)

After that experiment, with its interesting insights, I made it my goal to improve my personal communication culture. After years of being less than focused on it, I don’t always get it right, but I’m succeeding more and more often. At least I think so!

It only takes a short moment to think about how I can best contact, inform or address my colleagues. What I get back is incomparably more valuable – personal contacts, relevant additional information, and appreciation. On both sides.

I am now very aware that internal and transparent communication starts with me personally.

Because if my own personal communications are not personal, open, engaging and, yes, human, how could I expect anything better from my company internal communications?


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