If any business executive, head of communications function, HR messenger or communications agency for that matter, has any doubt about the ephemeral nature of top down communications, I suggest he/she reflects on the safety briefing in airplanes.
Presumably many of them will be frequent flyers. I am for sure one of them with an average of a flight a week. That makes 52 safety briefings per year, all pretty similar in any airline. All of them explain to you what to do in an emergency, what positions to take, how to inflate the life jacket and what to do and not to do at the exit doors. I have probably received hundreds of those over the years and, in most cases, politely abandoned my book or newspaper or device to look at the acrobatics of the flight attendants.
By now I should be proficient, if not super graduated in airline passenger safety. My problem is that given an emergency I am pretty sure I will not know what to do and will look at fellow travellers to copy. Why? My channels are saturated and my mind has decided a long time ago to filter anything that has to do with yellow life jackets, brace-brace positions and ‘breath normally. I have been over-communicated for years, which leaves me probably hopeless.
If you want to do a little zero cost experiment, ask yourself, or better a member of your team, to look at you in the eyes and describe his watch. That is, his watch. Numbers? Roman numerals? 12 hour number? Just 4? Date little window? Background colour?All that stuff. I bet many people are unable to describe it fully, 100%. Why? We look at the watch all the time and the mind has given up storing a boring, repetitive set of data.
Top down communication systems of any sort tend to assume, somehow magically, that they are always at zero base, that the new thing is really new, that it deserves attention and it will get it, and that a bit of reinforcement is necessary. Communicate, communicate, communicate, we have been told, never cease to communicate. Well, if that’s the case, good luck with effectiveness. You may have a Yellow Life jacket Problem.
The trick of effective communications is to communicate less, to keep healthy non-saturated channels and to master the trick of attention in the first instance. If the reaction is similar to my mind’s ‘oh no, another yellow life jacket’, then you have a problem.
Less communication may be the real trick for effective communication.