Is 95% of Internal Communication Wasted?

Warren Church

Yes. It very well may be. A typical day finds more than a hundred emails accompanied by far too many attachments and links. They are conveniently multiplied to all of your devices and uploaded to your cloud, the one that makes it rain. Overwhelmed, we resort to other means - pings or texts or reconstituted doppelgängers of everything on Box or Slack. Information fatigue makes it increasingly difficult to discern the truly important things that impact the organization’s forward progress.  

What we have here is a failure to communicate – not simply because there is so much of it, but because it has been designed for the wrong part of our brain.

Only 5% of the brain responds to rational information - like logical appeals, rational arguments or Excel spreadsheets and analytics. The other 95% responds to implicit information - like emotional appeals, dramatizations, social proof, nonverbal cues, and of course cat videos or anything Kardashian. Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman refers to these two minds as System 2 and System 1 in his book: Thinking, Fast and Slow

Now think about how the truly critical things are “communicated” to you in your modern workday – big strategic changes or “transformative” initiatives. I propose that very nearly 100% of it consists of rational appeals, which have just a 5% chance of gaining your emotional attention, and an even lower probability of impacting your behavior. It’s no wonder so many initiatives lack initiative, and why turnarounds take so long to turn around.

Attention may very well be the scarcest resource inside large companies today. So let’s stop wasting it.

Here are three things you can do. First, not every piece of communication is important, so disseminate this information in efficient ways and channels that don’t require much of our attention. Second, design the communications that really need to breakthrough so they work with the way our brains really work. This includes the creative use of humor, drama, irony, surprising metaphors and/or stories. Third, always remember that the bait must suit the fish, not the angler – replaying that strategy pitch prepared for Wall Street with internal audiences will fail.

These three tactics will improve your chance of getting actions behind critical internal strategies or initiatives – a benefit of being felt as well as seen.

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