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Preventing shock waves - 5 tips for getting your communications "right"

Updated: Jul 9, 2023

I ran into a friend the other day who shared with me a communication their business had sent out to their workforce that had created shock waves. And like any shock wave, it had created disturbances that moved fast and furiously across the organization causing emotions such as fear, uncertainty and anger.

As I heard this story it reinforced what I had learned myself, often the hard way, about the importance of getting communication “right”.

So in my quest to “pay it forward”, here are five tips to help you get your communications “right”:

Tip 1: Start by defining your objectives

A question I've always asked myself and now my clients is - what reaction, feeling and/or action do you want from your employees once the communication goes out?

By starting with an end in mind, and using this to define your objectives, your “why”, you can then move forward to develop your communication solidly based on what you are trying to achieve.

Tip 2: Don’t sugar coat or withhold the truth

Too often we either sugar coat our communication, making the message or situation sound better than it is, or withhold the truth, not sharing the whole story. To explain the importance of this, let me ask you a question - how would you feel if a friend or family member did this to you? Would you trust them less, be angry, or both? That’s exactly what happens if you do this with your employees, as you’ll risk losing their trust and their engagement.

“Lying to our staff, telling half-truths, withholding information and compulsive under-communication destroys trust in organizations. It creates an ‘us and them’ culture and sabotages any possibility of employee engagement. If you’re serious about employee engagement, you need to stop the lies and build trust instead” - taken from my book Build it: The rebel playbook for employee engagement

Tip 3: Test it out

It’s always a good idea to test your communication with someone(s) who can provide an objective opinion before it is sent out. I know that this adds time, and it often means that you need to make additional changes, but it’s worth the time and effort as you can often prevent misunderstandings that may occur.

Another side of testing is to test it once it has been sent out to identify if it is on track for achieving your objectives. Again, this takes time and often creates additional work, but it’s better to know if you’re off track and be able to do something about it, then to naively assume it is working.

Tip 4: Give your managers a heads up

The first people our employees go to answer their questions, especially after something is communicated, is their manager. Then why do we so often not give them a heads up, instead putting them in the uncomfortable position of having to explain and often defend a communication when they haven’t had time to digest and understand it themselves?

For this reason, I always encourage companies to go out to their managers first with the communication before it is sent out across the organization. And, if the message is either complex or critical, have a call or meeting with them beforehand to set them up for success with their teams.

Tip 5: Make room for questions and feedback

The final tip has to do with the concept of two-way communication, which is just as critical as the communication itself.

It’s important to find ways to make room for questions and feedback whenever you communicate to your workforce. Whether that’s by having this within your communication if you are doing it within your intranet, having Q&A sessions after it has been sent out, or whatever you think will work best based on the communication and your company culture.

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful, and do keep them in mind as you communicate to your workforce, getting it right for them and for your business AND avoiding shock waves.


If you’d like to learn more about communication, check out a free workshop pack that you can find in the Free Resources tab of my website or in my book titled “Effective HR Communication: A framework for communicating with IMPACT”.


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