An attendee of one of my programs told me once that her HR Department used to tape notes near the time clock to remind employees of all the different policies they were supposed to follow. The notes were filled with sentiments like, “Don’t do this!” and “Don’t forget that!”
The reason they put the notes at the time clock was because they knew that the time clock was about the only place that most employees visited every day (twice!) – and they wanted to be sure no one missed or forgot an important policy.
What they didn’t realize is that many employees felt as though they were getting yelled at every day (twice!) – before they even clocked in and as they were leaving! Unfortunately, this phenomenon also holds true for other public communications areas, such as community bulletin boards in break rooms, HR offices, and other areas of the office, as well as in customer communications.
Take a look at your communications to employees and customers. How can they be made more positive or less threatening? A tweak here or there in the wording can make a huge difference in the tone of your communications.
For example, one of my clients who operates a relocation company had a packet of customer instructions that included several pages outlining what could (and could not) be loaded onto the moving trucks. One page had the following heading:
Upon reading the list, I realized why the items were not allowed, as the list contained gas grills with gas tanks. However, it struck me that the tone being directed toward the customer was very harsh. Simply changing the heading to the following line changed the tone of the communication:
Items Unsafe to Transport
Removing the exclamation points, changing it from all capital letters to just capitalizing the first letters of the words, and making the headline explanatory rather than accusatory made a big difference.
Remember, thinking adults don’t want to be commanded or accused, even before they’ve done anything wrong (even if many others have done something wrong before them, prompting the rule). They want to be given an explanation for any guideline or rule, which allows them to reasonably agree with the rule and follow it willingly.
So, take a look at all your communications for tone, content, placement and explanations – then decide how you can make them more agreeable – and less accusatory – for your customers and employees to follow.