Mind the gap. Why it’s important to communicate even when you don’t have much to say

If you don’t say something, someone else will.

Just look at how Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, was criticised by his initial lack of response to the Cambridge Analytica crisis. He didn’t have anything to say but there were plenty of voices prepared to fill the gap – many of them negative about Facebook.

From business crisis to business change – the critical factor determining success is good communication and storytelling. And this isn’t just true for business leaders but for anyone running a project, managing a team or responsible for an organisation’s official communication channels.

Yet people are so concerned about saying the wrong thing or thinking they have little to say, that they stay silent. In our ever-changing world, that’s a mistake. Here’s why:

  • We all want to make sense of the world. If we don’t have the information to do so we fill the gap. Side bar conversations over coffee, at the water cooler or even in the toilets get shared and spread. And once speculative stories take hold, it is very difficult to get the real narrative back on track.
  • A study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) earlier this month, showed just how quickly rumours and false stories spread. MIT looked at 126,000 news items over an 11-year period on Twitter. The result was that the made-up stuff travelled faster and reached more people than the truth – and it was spread most commonly by humans not bots.
  • And the stories we hear and understand at work are what galvanise us to take action… or not. Good communication and storytelling determine success at every level of business.
  • Given I’m a business storyteller, you are probably thinking ‘you would say that wouldn’t you’ but you don’t have to take my word for it. Leading management consultants BCG Group have shared the five most important things CEOs can do to successfully transform a business. They looked at 750 transformation journeys across a variety of sectors, globally, between 2004 and 2016. Guess what comes second on their list? Telling their transformation story! (It’s a brilliant article and I share the link at the end if you are interested.)

But knowing communicating consistently is the right thing to do and having the confidence to do it are two different things. That’s particularly true in our ‘always-on’ world where the sands are shifting and you don’t necessarily have all the answers. So here are four tips for helping you fill the communications gap:

  1. Reassure people that the situation is evolving, you don’t have all the answers, but you’ll share what you can as soon as you can. It helps to tell people when they can next expect further information.
  2. Remind people of the bigger picture and how their work or project is helping contribute towards it. We all want to know our work has value but sometimes it is hard to see how it is relevant or making a difference. The sum is always more powerful than individual parts. Tell the bigger picture story and remind people how they are contributing towards delivering that.
  3. Remember if you are responsible for communicating, you likely know more than those you are sharing information with. You may not feel you have much to say but others won’t have been privy to the drip-feed email exchanges or snatched corridor conversations you’ve had. Small updates are better than no updates.
  4. Repeat yourself. A lot of people worry about repeating themselves. Don’t. People only retain snippets of information. If you have key messages, don’t be afraid to repeat them over and over, across multiple communications.

Here’s the MIT link about the speed at which fake news travels.

Here’s BCG’s excellent article on the five traits of transformative CEOs.

Alex has helped businesses from a variety of industries tell their transformation, change and purpose stories. After two-decades employed by internationally-loved household brands to craft their words, she establish not A Duff word in March 2017. She now helps businesses, brands and boards to wordsmith words that work, master their messages to matter and sculpt standout stories. Her blog ‘early words’ is published Thursday mornings at 07:00.

Published by

Alex Duff

Freelance Communications Professional

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