Merridee Bujaki in the Tory atrium wearing a red jacket.

About the author: Merridee Bujaki is co-director of Sprott’s Centre for Research of Inclusion at Work (CRIW) and Professor of Accounting.

Effective, honest, and clear communication, both in a corporate setting, as well as in all aspects of our lives is more than ever, crucial to ensuring the well-being of everyone. Based on my over twenty years of researching corporate communications, here are a few suggestions that may be relevant to business communications in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What has your organization done in response?

Considerable research has demonstrated that organizations strive to manage the impression they project to outsiders. One aspect of this impression management is that bad news is generally attributed to factors outside the organization’s control, and good news is usually attributed to actions undertaken internally. While COVID-19 represents an external shock to all organizations, focus your communications on what your organization has done in response.

Be clear, direct and timely
Clear, direct, and timely communication of information is best, ideally from a trusted organizational leader. Do not be afraid to acknowledge the challenges your organization may be facing in responding to rapidly changing circumstances. Recognize that COVID-19 may pose challenges to your business model and practices. As much as possible, indicate what is being done to address these challenges. By disclosing information, even information that might normally be considered “bad” news, your organization can prevent individuals from assuming the worst.

Specific language is important
In drafting organizational communications, recognize that the specific language used is important. Be aware of how your readers may react to the choice of terminology or metaphors. For example, will invoking a war-related metaphor reassure readers or increase their anxiety? Similarly, consider carefully the choice of any photographs that you might like to include in your communications. Photographs have both surface level characteristics—the “what” that is being depicted—as well as deeper meanings and interpretations. These interpretations may vary considerably depending on the reader. The interpretations readers take away from your communications may have long-lasting impacts on how they view your organization. For example, if you include photographs of individuals identified as “heroes,” are you presenting a diverse depiction of heroes?

How have you adapted to the new norms?

Finally, organizations frequently work to demonstrate that their actions and decisions are consistent with social norms and values. In the context of COVID-19, what is deemed appropriate has changed. Consider communicating how your employees are being kept safe and how business practices have been adapted to ensure compliance with physical distancing recommendations. Gratitude and compassion have also emerged as new norms, so be sure your organizational communications express thanks and empathy—again making sure these expressions are inclusive.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020 in , ,
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