7 Best Tips to Communicate Top Down and Bottom Up
Communication is only communication if the message gets where it needs to go and is received by those who need to hear it. Here are seven tips to successfully communicate top down, bottom up and even across your organization:
- Communicate face to face wherever you can. Research shows that less than 10 percent of the meaning of a message is carried through the actual words. If we just have written communication without any face-to-face communication, people are going to miss the message. If your workforce is geographically dispersed, then make use of technology. Seeing each others’ faces makes a huge difference.
- Clarity and simplicity are key. The person who defines whether a message is clear is not the sender but the receiver. Unfortunately, I often hear people say, “I must have said it five times. I was perfectly clear.” This shows the disconnect between what the speaker thinks is clear and what is actually clear. Be aware of your messages: Make sure your communication is to the point and not vague. A lack of clarity will only be magnified as the message gets relayed through the layers of the organization. Simple is powerful.
- Remember that messages can get distorted. When people are stressed, their listening decreases and so what they do hear becomes distorted. If you are trying to convey tough messages (which will cause stress), try to keep your message short, and then actually invite dialogue. For tough messages, one-way communication is not sufficient. Invite questions. Talk with folks. This helps people to absorb the message.
- Build in accountability. Many organizations suffer from what I call a thermal layer where communications do not penetrate. This is quite often the case when leadership conveys a message that they expect to get relayed down through the organization, and then they find out it was not relayed. When you have a message that needs to be cascaded down throughout the organization, give folks a deadline for making that happen and hold them accountable. One more thing: Check in with the bottom levels of your organization to make sure the message was received.
- Use multiple means of communication. For example, hold town hall meetings when you have to convey strategic initiatives and other vital information so that people can hear it directly from the leader. Use your organization’s intranet to post important information. Of course, you can’t expect people to always check that website, but you can incentivize them so they are more likely to use it. Email, website, meetings, and town halls all have their place. Important messages need to be shared in multiple ways.
- Make people aware of the central talking points. If you are expecting folks to cascade a message throughout your organization, make sure they are aware of the key talking points as well as the points not to say. This matters because people will often start expanding on less important points and miss the key ones. Be sure to emphasize what is most important so it can’t be missed.
- Watch out for lengthy emails with multiple points. Generally it is better to keep emails short. Remember, quick and easy is better than long and complicated.
Many organizations do employee surveys, and the results often show that there’s an issue with communication. I have worked with a lot of leaders who get these results despite the fact that they have been working hard at communication. Don’t give up. This is not an easy problem to solve, but it is one where you can make a difference step by step. You can always communicate more—and more effectively. Follow these guidelines and you can begin to make a real difference in your organization.