Organizations, businesses and individuals spend so much time, effort and money worrying about crafting a positive message, putting out the right press release, or using paid messages to build the brand and image. However, on a daily basis, it is what they don't say that really hurts, and yet, in most instances, that is given little serious thought.
Think about the last encounter with a sales clerk who carried on a conversation with the person in the next lane instead of serving you. Walking in the door of an establishment without anyone noticing. Calling and receiving the dreaded voice mail message on the phone. How about checking out a company's website and getting outdated information? Receiving a rather terse notification saying they need your input. Did you come away from the experience with a warm and fuzzy feeling? Probably not.
The irony? This "positive feeling" is what these same companies or organizations spend so much time and effort in trying to "create" among us. Therein lies the issue, and it is one which is ultimately rooted in incongruence. Communication is really about building trust through consistency. When there is consistent messaging across an organization, we have heard it before and it worked the way they said, so the trust value increases. How can we as consumers build that trust when we consistently receive conflicting messages both verbally and non-verbally? They all come from the same entity, but the service does not match the claim.
Politicians, managers and public speakers deal with the same issues. We rightfully have problems with a manager or leader whose words say one thing but the body language or experience says another. Ever see a speaker show up late or experience avoidable audio-visual issues and hear how important this new program and meeting is to them? Unfortunately, they already delivered a message or two when they arrived late. They did not respect the time of those attending and were not prepared.
We hear it for prospective job interviewees all the time: Dress for the job for which you are applying! Why? Because the interviewer is making dozens of non-verbal judgments based only on appearance. It is what you don't say that matters.
So what is a leader to do? I would guess that your organization has dozens of communication issues similar to those discussed, and often it is hard to see or be objective when you are immersed in the day-to-day activities. I generally suggest a "communications audit" or in customer contact areas "mystery shopping" to help gain an outside perspective. These can cover items as simple as outgoing e-mails and phone etiquette, to social media responses and website information. Paid ads and earned media may be analyzed as well. Broader is better because each one "says something”.
Generally, this type of activity will yield a report telling your business or organization where you need to look first and help prioritize the quick hits. Some of the changes will be cultural and require more effort for the team, while others will take some simple adjustments to verbiage, phone greetings, or styles used in printed communications to generate consistency.
Remember the old adage, “actions speak louder than words”? Businesses and individuals are saying a great deal by their actions and in what they don't say. It is time to get this piece under control before unintended communications do even greater damage or inhibits those positive messages we care so much about.