Tell Your People

When I first started in consulting, I was on a big project with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It was an extensive assessment of “organizational issues” broadly speaking. I did a LOT of interviews and focus groups. I remember meeting with one of the senior regional managers who made a point about internal communication that I have since quoted liberally. I thought it was time to put it in the blog. He said (a paraphrase):

“Tell your people. Tell them what’s going on. Tell them everything. Tell them multiple times. Because  here’s the kicker: if you don’t tell them, they’ll make it up! And I can guarantee you whatever they make up is likely to be much worse than the truth.”

He’s not the only one to say something like this, of course, but it’s amazing to me how seemingly hard it is to follow this advice.

Let go of the fear. Tell your people.


  1. 24.02.2012 at 8:27 am


    Love, love, love this. I completely agree.

    In fact, “not saying anything” is actually a much louder message (and resonates longer) than whatever you are avoiding talking about. It tells your people that not only do you not value them, you don’t think they are capable or trustworthy enough to handle what is happening. This message of distrust further alienates the very people you depend on for success.

    My background is in political messaging and one thing we always told candidates – If there’s something in your past you’re worried about, know that it will come out and it’s much better hearing it from you in the manner in which you want to address it than on the tongues of the competition.

    And when it comes to companies and employees, especially in this economic climate, if you are keeping something from your people (like you said above) what they can imagine (or Google) is probably much worse than the reality of the matter. Keeping information from them will corrode future messages as well as your people will begin to wonder what else you’re not telling them. A small secret then becomes a future chasm in communication. Is that really worth it?

  2. 24.02.2012 at 8:50 am

    Amen, Christina! And it’s not just about being silent, it’s about telling your people MORE than you currently tell them, and telling them many times, from different angles. We really need to push for more clarity internally, and that takes some effort.

  3. 13.03.2012 at 9:12 pm

    I think sometimes people in formal management or leadership positions are so familiar with some pieces of information that they believe they have communicated them more to others than they really have. One of the other obvious aspects of this communication issue is we have to communicate things in language and ways that have meaning for the people with whom we are speaking, not just in terms that resonate with us.