Randomness terrifies people. In a world where someone can walk into a shopping mall and open fire on hundreds of innocent people, where jobs disappear overnight, where cancer appears suddenly on an X-Ray, people grasp for control, order and stability.
They expect the same from communication coming to them -- that it should make sense for them personally. When generic messages about change bombard them, they often shut down or push back.
Be Concrete; Get Specific
All of the following comments have one thing in common: As if on automatic-pilot, people use them in many different scenarios -- with a multitude of meanings.
"It's our policy. That's the best I can do." In the midst of negotiations, this ultimatum typically brings the situation to a halt -- unless the other person really has no other options. And rarely is that the case.
"We'll look into the situation and get back to you when we have a resolution." When leaders toss this promise to a crowd during a crisis, they react, "We want to know now what you're doing to find the resolution."
"We're sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused you." Customers may grin and bear it, but they won't accept this generic template as a sincere apology.
None of these statements move the listener to change their mind or feel more positive about a situation. In fact, such statements anger people, cause them to dig in their heels, and stall action.
Drop the Doublespeak
People distrust what they don't understand.
Much of what is written today in corporate America and by governmental agencies is not intended to inform people. It is written to protect the organization providing the information. Take financial disclosures that accompany investments. Remove the jargon and what they say is, "This is a highly risky investment. Beware. We are not responsible. If you invest in this, you could lose every penny!"
But if they made that statement so clearly and boldly, very few would invest.
Double-speak persists as a protective shield. But gobbledygook also limits your influence and power in multiple ways: wasted translation time, distrust, and confusion. Ditch the double-speak. Unravel the babble.
Avoid Making the Effort Look Harder Than It Is
That's not the same as making things look easy. Promise people that change will be easy, and they will think you're either a liar, incompetent, or crazy. When you're trying to influence people to make a change, they need to consider the request and make the commitment. Otherwise, you'll have a "yes" answer and a "no" on the follow-through.
That said, some things really are easy. Why make them unnecessarily difficult simply by the way you communicate them?
Whether creating an image for your Facebook page, writing web copy, sending email, drafting a client proposal, or soliciting gifts from donors, make the action you want clear. If it's easy, say so. Pay attention to its physical layout on the page or screen to allow easy scanning.
• Use a simple font.
• Make subject lines useful, specific, concrete.
• Provide informative headlines for easy scanning within a document.
• Create an eye-appealing layout.
• Break long paragraphs into shorter paragraphs.
• Use lists where appropriate.
• Emphasize details by using blank space, bolding, and color.
Communicating change in and of itself is difficult. Persuading someone to change their mind or take action based on that change is harder still. The goal in explaining that change should be like building software -- so intuitive that users no longer need a Help menu.