“I wish I could rewind the clock and do it differently.” Bob, CEO of a mid-size organization lamented to his former colleague, Rick. A week earlier he had sent out an internal memo warning that things were about to change. Their entire industry would soon be affected due to emerging government regulations.
The day after the memo was sent, worst case scenarios were circulating throughout the company. The gossip mill was in full swing. Fear quickly spread to vendors and customers. Within 48 hours, Bob had hundreds of emails from concerned workers, vendors and customers.
“What could you have done differently? You shared the information you had at the time.” Rick earnestly attempted to support his friend.
“Rick, I didn’t have much information from the Feds. I should have been upfront with people that I was also in the dark.” The CEO confided.
“I know but you couldn’t have anticipated that people would react so badly.” Rick responded in a compassionate tone.
“I underestimated the importance of doing more than sharing facts. My memo wasn’t very warm and friendly.” Bob admitted.
For the past two decades, Bob had focused on building a loyal team around him. He had worked hard to build their trust and was confident he had achieved it. Now, with one poorly written document, he was surprised to see how quickly that trust could erode.
Here’s what also surprised Bob: how differently employees read written communication during times of stress and change.
Bob made some blunders. You don’t have to repeat his mistakes. As a leader, you can build trust during turbulent times by following these four writing tips:
Tip #1: Choose Every Word Carefully. This is critical. During times turbulent times, every word you write to your employees about the crisis will be scrutinized.
Bob’s Blunder: He used ‘unfortunate’ in his memo. Employees obsessed about the use of this word, convinced it reflected some dire meaning.
Do This: Before you press send, ask yourself, could my reader derive some unintended meaning from my wording? If you are not sure, get a second opinion! (or third or fourth!)
Tip #2: Make a Human Connection. It has been said that people will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you make them feel. This also applies to written communication. During turbulent times, employees look to leaders for reassurance and empathy. Conveying a human connection through writing fosters trust in leadership.
Bob’s Blunder: Bob’s memo came across as uncaring to employees since it lacked any expression of emotion.
Do This: Before you press send, ask yourself, what expression of genuine emotion could I share with my readers to let them know I care?
Tip #3: Be Transparent. When you don’t have the full information to share, be willing to honesty explain your constraints. If you do not show transparency, you risk breaching the reader’s trust. In your writing, what you leave unsaid can be as important as what you say.
Bob’s Blunder: Bob’s memo left many questions unanswered. Bob failed to share with his readers that he was limited by the lack of information he was receiving from his source, the federal government.
Do This: Before you press send, ask yourself, have I articulated why I can’t provide more detail?
Tip #4: More is Better. During a crisis, people can get overwhelmed. This reduces their ability to retain information. Your message may get lost. To ensure your communication is received, aim to increase the frequency of writing to employees about important issues. Repetition is key. Find ways to communicate important messages in different ways on a frequent basis during turbulent times.
Bob’s Blunder: Bob waited a few weeks between his first and second written communication about the changes and this caused concern among employees.
Do This: Before you press send, ask yourself, have I communicated how I will continue to keep people updated?
It has been said that the only constant in life is change. This may be truer than ever. How you communicate in writing during turbulent times can leave a lasting impression on those within your organization and beyond. Your people are watching not just what you do, but how you do it. By following these four tips, you can leave a lasting legacy within your organization – one that you will not look back and regret like Bob did.
About the Author
Dr. Julie Miller is President of Business Writing that Counts! Over the past 30 years, more than 750,000 people have participated in Business Writing That Counts! on-site and online writing courses and walked away with dramatically improved writing skills. Dr. Julie and her team are focused on increasing our clients’ bottom line by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of employees’ writing. Contact her at www.businesswritingthatcounts.com