HR leaders need to continue to communicate important messages to employees so they can adapt through the changes that lie ahead.
Sure, some fear and uncertainty have passed since the pandemic hit. But the importance of communicating increasingly complex information hasn’t. It’s as critical as ever for HR leaders.
“Words matter, because people are scared and people panic,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters early in the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s advice workplace leaders want to keep in mind now.
Your words matter for how employees understand and interpret what’s going on – and how they’ll react.
Here are four keys to communicating well through and beyond a crisis. They come from Carmine Gallo, a Harvard University professor and author of Five Stars: The Communication Secrets to Get from Good to Great.
Choose small words with big impact
Almost always simple words will do the job to communicate important messages.
In fact, leaders who use long, complex words can lose ground: If people can’t follow what’s going on, they’ll lose focus faster because the crisis already affects their attention spans.
At the onset of restrictions to stop the coronavirus spread, Cuomo tweeted: Stay Home. Stop the Spread. Save Lives.
He didn’t send out a long edict with 10 reasons behind the need to stay home.
His 39-character tweet made clear what people needed to do for at least the time being. And they did it.
Leaders want to avoid acronyms and complex industry or situational terms. Stick to the language your people use.
Give short, concise directions. Don’t cloud important directives with extra details and wordy explanations.
People process what’s going on around them best by associating it with something familiar. They’re comforted in the familiarity of a previous experience.
So leaders want to give employees mental short cuts.
For instance, can you relate the need to take pay cuts to a short-term sacrifice employees made in the past that had a long-term benefit? Or something even greater, such as supply sacrifices Americans made in WWII to help the country?
Personalize all communication
People love stories, especially ones they see themselves in.
When communicating through and beyond a crisis, leaders want to tell short stories relevant to how employees are affected by what’s happening.
You might talk about a great struggle the company overcame.
Or get even more personal and talk about a personal struggle and the fears you had when facing it (without bragging about the victory or whining about a loss).
Stick to 3 key points
People like things grouped in threes – and the reason is simple.
We can hold only a few items in our short-term memory. Remembering is key to execution.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institutes of Health, is widely considered a strong leader who has followed the three-point rule regularly.
For instance, he stressed we could lower distancing guidelines when three things were in place: “the ability to test, isolate, and do contact tracing.”
Leaders want to give fewer, concrete instructions, and people will more likely accept and act on them.