Group Gordon’s Sarah Naco turns a travel delay into a lesson about the power of frequent communication.
“Folks, there are no new updates since I last checked in. I know you might be getting sick of my voice, but I’ll continue touching base every ten minutes. I’ll let you know as soon as we have a plan for getting this train moving again.”
‘Getting sick of my voice,’ are you kidding me! This Amtrak announcer’s frequent loudspeaker check-ins were the main reason my mood hadn’t soured in the 45 minutes we’d spent stuck on the tracks in Stanford, CT for an ‘unknown reason.’ Travel delays are among the most frustrating situations to find yourself in, but they’re made worse when you’re left in the dark, clueless as to what’s happening (or not). An empathetic and communicative spokesperson who keeps people informed on the regular can keep customers cool and protect the company’s reputation.
Frequent communication is valuable in more than travel-related situations. Even if there’s nothing new to say, status updates show that you’re on top of an issue. Whether it’s regularly informing employees of your company’s latest work-from-home status or providing updates to clients on project progress, communication isn’t contingent upon saying something new; the act itself conveys care and respect for others.
Communicating when there’s nothing new to say might feel redundant or annoying, but the effect is often quite the opposite – and research from Harvard proves it. While it’s hard to overcommunicate, there are a couple of key points to keep in mind to make sure your message is always on point.
Regularly communicating with employees, stakeholders, customers, and any other key audiences fosters productive relationships, effective processes, higher engagement, and, ultimately, stronger businesses. Be proactive instead of waiting to be asked about the status of a project or the company policy on a hot-button issue. Keeping lines of communication actively open shows that your audience is top of mind and keeping them informed is a priority, which can be enormously reassuring for those on the receiving end. Clear and frequent communication is also especially essential during times of uncertainty, like in the current pandemic, when being kept in the dark can add to the additional stresses people are already facing, such as job insecurity, health concerns, and caring for young children and elderly parents.
To avoid sounding like a broken record, make clear why regular updates are important for your audience, set their expectations by laying out the frequency they should expect, and follow through. While stuck on the train, the Amtrak conductor let us know from the beginning that he was going to provide updates every 10 minutes, regardless of whether there was a development, so that we were kept in the loop. By setting this expectation and sticking to it (which is crucial for maintaining trust), I felt reassured that there was someone looking out for me.
Keep it people-centric
Always remember that those receiving your communication are real people with real feelings, frustrations, fears, and needs. Conveying empathy and understanding in your communication can show people that you understand the human impact of what’s happening, which helps to create a sense of teamwork, and the feeling that we’re all in this together – just like my Amtrak conductor who acknowledged the frustrating situation and emphasized the importance of getting everyone safely to their destinations. Companies can strengthen their communication by emotionally leveling with their teams, recognizing how people might be feeling, and focusing on what they’re doing to best support their employees.
Just because there might not be progress to communicate, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say anything at all. For instance, you might not have any updates on a client project that you’re working on, but that doesn’t mean you should skip over it in your next client meeting. Your client may think you forgot or have poor time management – not a good look! Instead, take the time to talk about any pain points and unexpected surprises, and most importantly, how you’re reassessing your initial strategy and coming up with creative solutions to keep the momentum going. Rather than seeing ‘no update’ as a bad thing to gloss over, use it as an opportunity to show your proactivity and adaptability.
The coronavirus pandemic has upended everyone’s sense of normality and replaced it with a huge amount of added stress and uncertainty. Now more than ever, all companies should be prioritizing proactive, consistent, and frequent communication both internally and externally for the health and wellbeing of their employees, clients, and organization.