8 communications tips from HR and behavioural science


There is much that communications specialists can learn from HR colleagues.

That’s why this week I’m taking my communications inspiration from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

The CIPD recently held a conference called Science of Human Behaviour at Work. After the event they listed eight practical ways HR can apply behavioural science within the workplace. Interestingly, all of this can be applied to communications too.

Here’s my condensed summary of the tips. For each point I have also suggested how each principle can be applied to communications.

Tap into ‘hot networks’

We’re more likely to say ‘yes’ to sugary treats when they’re presented with a smile rather than on a plate left by the coffee machine. Such activities tap into the brain’s ‘hot networks’ which generate an emotional response and prime people to remember and respond.

For communicators: Don’t leave hard copy communications materials gathering dust on a magazine rack. Walk the floor and hand out a few copies. You may also develop some new and useful contacts.

Encourage growth mindsets

Those with a ‘growth’ mindset, as opposed to a ‘fixed’ mindset tend to be more adaptable and more likely to learn from their mistakes.

For communicators: Use language in your content which is positive and empowering, and avoid unnecessarily using negative phraseology which may reinforce limiting beliefs.

Know that self-awareness may not come naturally

Many people are not aware of their state of mind. That’s why publishing company Thomson Reuters has dedicated a substantial amount of money to put employees through self-awareness training.

For communicators: It’s difficult to know how to change your state of mind if you don’t know what state of mind you are already in. This could be useful for communications specialists seeking to produce change by working with clients on a one-on-one basis.

Reconsider staff ratings

Companies like Accenture and Deloitte dropped formal performance appraisals. It’s not just about being different. Ratings can trigger a threat response in the brain, particularly if the rating received is unexpected, preventing employees from absorbing new information and feedback.

For communicators: Anyone managing a communications team should think about this. Do team members develop and/or perform at their best when they feel under attack? Comms managers may have divided opinions on this one.

Beware overload

‘Cognitive load’ presents a serious problem for Learning and Development professionals. The brain can only process so much information into long term memory at any one time. Dr Itiel Dror, a cognitive neuroscientist and senior researcher at University College London, says: “It’s not what you teach them, but what they learn that counts.”

For communicators: Avoid bombarding employees with too many messages and too much information. One powerful story may be worth more than a brick-sized brochure or 40 PowerPoint slides.

Ask about achievements

Hilary Scarlett, of consultancy Scarlett Associates, opened her presentation by asking the audience to think about what they felt they had achieved in the past six months. Asking the audience to think about their accomplishments puts them in the right headspace for learning.

For communicators: Again, this is a tried and tested motivational technique, using by motivational speakers and coaches alike. Use it to motivate yourself, someone else or a group of people when using change-focused communication activities.

Measure for motivation

Just as what isn’t measured can’t be improved, what isn’t measured can’t be motivating. If we don’t know we are getting better, there’s a good chance that we are going to give up.

For communicators: If a person, group or organisation is improving their performance, use your communications channels to tell them. Willpower alone is not usually enough to motivate people over the long-term.

Recognise that people aren’t one-size-fits-all

The world is becoming increasingly personalised, and that includes how we are being treated in the office. For example, increased home-working and flexible hours usage has allowed more people to work when their body clock says they are at their peak.

For communicators: There is an onus on communications specialists to keep up with the pace of change in how employees choose to work, and to ensure that communications channels take account of their differing needs and shifting requirements.

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