Six Rules for Communication

Feb 06, 2011 3 Comments by

Those guiding organizational change spend a good deal of their time helping people communicate.  Sometimes a communicator’s best intentions can go awry if they ignore a few simple rules for communication effectiveness.  Today I will offer six basic rules that you should consider when sending out messages to large groups of stakeholders.

Here’s my short list:

  1. Take Time to Plan.
  2. Keep it Clear & Simple.
  3. Repeat Yourself.
  4. Declare an Official Channel for Some Things.
  5. Use Multiple Channels for Most Things.
  6. Get Feedback.

… and here are some details:

Rule #1: Take Time to Plan. Organize your thoughts before you shoot out a message to the “Company *All” email list. Take a little time to write down your target audience, the core message, anything you need people to do and where they should go for more information.

Review the message with a few people to ensure it is accurate and makes sense. Especially consider running it by a few of your intended audience members. These may seem like fairly obvious things to do, but they are quite often ignored in the haste to “just get something out”. (Red Flag: Always be nervous about a global message coming from ONE person without input, involvement or review.)

Rule #2: Keep It Clear & Simple. Try to get your point across in the simplest terms possible. Consider what your audience actually needs to know and spare them details that don’t offer much value. While short and sweet are the goals here – don’t forget to tell them what they really need to know. For example, here is an actual message that one team posted on their website to inform users of an upcoming system downtime:

[Server Status] System Downtime and Rollback [March 2nd, 2007]

That was certainly short, but hardly clear.  Below is a very straight-forward downtime message I got when I logged on the other day to an online survey website:

“This service will not be available from 1-3am Sunday morning EST while we do backups.”

I learned everything I need to know about the situation from their concise message. (FYI: I decided to sleep through the downtime.)

Rule #3: Repeat Yourself. One of the great pillars of effective marketing is message repetition.  Teams working to implement significant organizational change need to take note of this best practice and use it to their advantage.  Be careful when using this technique however! You must be consistent and true to the core message or you run the risk of confusing your audience.

In a recent post I discussed the idea of “Listening Cycles”.  These cycles repeat themselves, just like many cycles in organizational nature and that repetition can be leveraged too.  The picture below illustrates what I mean:

People may be completely open to hearing your message at the points labeled “A” and totally ignore it at points “C”.  In this scenario, their openness to hearing your message is fading at points labeled “B” and recovering at points “D”.

Consider repeating your core message and any current details at the times when the target stakeholders are most likely to be listening.

Rule #4: Declare an “Official Channel” for Some Things. You may want to choose a single official channel for certain critical messages to avoid confusion and ensure consistency.  For example, we have a big air horn in my hometown that is only used to warn citizens of an approaching severe storm.  Everyone knows what that sound means and that channel isn’t used to announce anything else.

Examples of good “official channels” might include an email distribution list or an employee intranet site that serves as the place to find out the real scoop on topics that matter to employees.

(Red Flag: Beware of over-using the official channel or clogging it with trivial items.  Too much white noise on this channel and people will not pay attention when a very important bit of information needs to get out.)

Rule #5: Use Multiple Channels for Most Things. Just as there are clear benefits to sending certain messages out through one “official channel” – there are also benefits to blanketing your target audience from many angles.  Consider drafting a single core message and sending that exact same content out via email, a website news article, a break room poster and an announcement at the staff meeting.


The odds of that message getting through to the average employee go up with the number of channels used.  (Red Flag: Of course you will need to balance the benefits with the production cost and effort.)

Rule #6: Get Feedback. Finally, have a workable way to gather some measurement of your communication effectiveness.  It can be a source of great comfort to know that the primary intention of your message truly made it to the intended audience. It can also be an unnecessary source of great concern if you’re unsure whether that message made it all the way down the pipe or not.

Some feedback mechanisms that have worked for me in the past include simple online user surveys, occasional site visits, website feedback buttons and targeted follow-up emails with members of the intended audience.

Summary: Change-related communication with large groups of stakeholders can be challenging.  Change Agents can make it a bit easier by following these six simple rules for communication effectiveness.


Questions for Chatter:

  1. I hesitated to mention the communication channel called “send a memo” because I fear that no one reads those… Does your organization still “send a memo” for certain messages?  If so, does it work?
  2. How do prefer to be communicated with in a professional setting? Which channel works best for you?

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Change Agent Skills, Change Communication, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Stakeholder Readiness, Team Dynamics

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I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!

3 Responses to “Six Rules for Communication”

  1. The Art of Showing Up | theBigRocks of Change says:

    […] Communicate, communicate, communicate. (6 Rules for Effective […]

  2. Tweets that mention Rules for Effective Communication -- says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by jeffrie van der Tol, Jeffrey Davidson. Jeffrey Davidson said: Reading: 6 Rules for Communication [about Change] | Good basics #baot […]

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