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Should we think about communicating less in the age of information overload?

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With internal communications, it turns out that more is not always better.

It’s hardly news that Americans are subjected to information overload. With the proliferation of new and increasingly targeted information sources on the internet, apps to incorporate into day-to-day routines, and ever more emails to read and respond to, many are overwhelmed: 85% of the country recently reported feeling stress and fatigue from email specifically. 

Making matters worse, nearly one third of the U.S. (31%) said they received 50% more communications in 2021 than they did in 2020, and 10% reported that the volume actually doubled in the same period.1 As internal communicators, we need to be aware of this overload and ensure we’re effectively reaching our audiences with the most important messages.

When the old cliché isn’t true 

We’ve heard it so many times, we may accept it automatically: With internal communication, we need to communicate early and often. Tell them something 20 times and 7 different ways to make sure they understand and remember the message. 

But when employees are already overwhelmed, over-communicating may backfire. It’s like the familiar “drinking from a firehose” metaphor; while we can often be sure that our messages are hitting the target, they’re not likely to be consumed and understood if they’re blasted indiscriminately.

So, what’s the alternative? Instead of making a difficult situation arguably worse by adding to an already over-saturated information environment, think about putting two key strategies to work: Laying the Groundwork and Letting Leaders Lead.

Laying the Groundwork: A foundation for understanding

With any internal communication effort, eventually you’ll need to share the facts. For instance, in a business transformation, employees will need to know what’s changing, which processes are impacted and whether reporting relationships are affected. 

Employees will be more likely to understand and internalize these messages, however, if they’re in the right state of mind – and Laying the Groundwork can help get them there. Before you begin sharing the details, ask yourself a few key questions and think about how communications can help:

  • What are the “cultural muscles” the organization will need to flex to support a successful change?
  • Which skills does the organization need to build and encourage to help employees be successful?
  • How do you want employees to feel once these messages are shared? What can you do now to help point them in the right direction?

Both when Laying the Groundwork and when sharing more detailed and “task-specific” messages, another strategy – Letting Leaders Lead – can help.

Letting Leaders Lead: Put a face on the facts

Whether you’re trying to lay a cultural foundation or sharing need-to-know details, don’t overlook your most powerful partners: leaders. Leaders have done the work to build trust by cultivating effective day-to-day relationships with employees, and messages from these leaders have a much better chance of landing successfully.

Delivering messages through leaders also helps avoid the confusion that can result from slightly different messages shared across multiple communication channels.

Perhaps most importantly, getting leaders involved is both good for them and good for the message: It gives leaders a chance to lead their teams more actively, and it validates your message by adding a stamp of authenticity and authority.

Remember, you can’t not communicate – but you can communicate smarter and more effectively. Focus on foundational messages that lay the groundwork for more detailed and complex communications, and use leaders as a key strategic communication channel. Doing both can mitigate the impacts of our sometimes overwhelming communications landscape and help employees better understand and internalize your most important content.

At Pivot Strategies, our change and communications consultants are constantly thinking about how to serve clients’ needs with a thoughtful, tailored approach. Visit Who We Are to meet the team and learn more about how we navigate complex environments to make the extraordinary a reality.

About the Author

Jon HilgersSenior Communications Consultant

Jon joined Pivot with 25+ years of technology, operations and change management internal communications experience. Jon is a recognized storyteller who uses focused listening and a persistent curiosity to understand business needs and build communications that deliver results. He is skilled at translating esoteric or arcane language for general consumption, and he has specific experience communicating to drive behavior change. Jon has extensive experience in financial services and held a Series 7 certification while working in the industry.

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