Striking a chord

It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.

Jun 9, 2020 | Feature

COVID-19 has highlighted many things.

The British public love banana bread, toilet rolls don’t grow on trees, and how you say something is as important as what you’re saying.

There has been so much information flying around for people to consume, both in and out of work. Everyone is avidly reading and processing, while businesses are focused on providing timely updates for their people, packed full of information and support.

With a lot of information being repurposed and redistributed, what makes your content cut through the noise? The answer is pretty simple. Tone. The way you say things matters as much as what you’re saying, and has a lasting effect on people.

Each organisation has a tone of voice, to help employees identify the communications they receive as being from the same source. This is why internal brand guidelines are so important – they introduce expectations of how people should be communicating. Amidst the pandemic pandemonium, you don’t want to completely turn your back on your normal tone, but you might need to adapt it. It’s not time to throw the brand guidelines out the window, but it’s time to crack the window at least.

To quote Maya Angelou “People will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

When employees look back on this uncertain and scary time, they won’t remember every email you sent. They won’t even necessarily remember every policy change you made. But, they will remember how you spoke to them, and whether you adapted your messaging and behaviours to be respectful of their new version of normality.

Striking the right tone comes from understanding your employees and their needs, as well as the wider societal landscape. Identifying groups of people, their challenges and collective mindsets, means you can produce communications that will hit the mark. This is more important than ever at the moment, and businesses have learned quickly that tone needs to evolve with the times.

Internal communications teams are working around the clock to produce supporting materials. As part of this process it’s important to take a breath and find out how people are responding to them. With limited time to process information, corporate jargon and complicated messaging may need to take a back seat. A quick survey will do the trick, or if you don’t have survey tools available, a chat with a handful of people from different areas.

It’s also worth remembering that managers and team leaders set the tone for communication at team level, and need to be supported. Tap into their knowledge and ask for hints and tips on what people respond well to. Alternatively, if some managers are clearly struggling to deliver messages to their teams, producing toolkits or tone checker guides may be helpful for them.

Situations like this help us to learn and evolve, so who knows, maybe its time for a change in tone? Or maybe it’s time to create one for the future. Adapting your communications during a crisis doesn’t mean losing sight of your internal brand – it means trusting its strength enough to loosen the reigns a little.

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