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Using psychology in your internal communications

Employee engagement and communication depends on basic human psychology. It’s a major influencing factor in the way people interpret and act on the information they receive.

Communication is critical to an organisation’s overall performance and success, so understanding the best ways to communicate with colleagues can be a big help.

These principles of psychology will help you keep your colleagues engaged in the information you share…


Choice Architecture

Internal communicators are using Choice Architecture all the time. It’s the practice of directing people to complete a specific action, while not blocking other options. Ultimately, it’s about making people make the choices we want them to make. So every time we focus colleagues’ attention on specific challenges, news or changes within a business, we are using Choice Architecture.

“A nudge, as we will use the term, is any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives”

University of Chicago economist Richard H. Thaler and Harvard Law School Professor Cass R. Sunstein

Sometimes it takes a huge campaign to achieve this. Sustained messaging across multiple channels is needed to direct the attention of employees to the topics we want them to focus on. Other times, a lighter touch in the right direction is all it takes.


The Nudge Theory

People are busy. They operate in complicated work environments and won’t always have the time to digest and act on internal communications. It’s said that people on average scroll through 90 metres of content every day, so your messaging has a lot of competition for peoples’ attention.

Sometimes colleagues just need a nudge in the right direction.

Here are a few ways to encourage your colleagues to be more involved with your comms:

  • Use using goal-specific reminders. These set out defined targets to encourage people to participate – e.g. ‘We need just six more colleagues to complete the survey in order to reach our target’
  • Use normative social influence. This is what leads us to conform in order to be liked and accepted by others – e.g. ‘Lots of employees get in touch to contribute towards the magazine’
  • Finally, make messages unmissable. Nudges can take place across multiple channels such as leaflets, tabletalkers and digital screens.

Information Gap Theory

We often say; ‘people don’t know what they don’t know.’

This idea is explained by the Information Gap Theory developed by George Loewenstein in the 1990s. It suggests peoples’ natural curiosity spurs them on to find out more when they become aware there’s something they don’t know.

This can be applied in internal communications by withholding the full story from nudge messages. Let people know that more information is available, but don’t spoon-feed it to them. This triggers people to seek out the information that’s relevant to them.

Applying some basic psychology to your internal communications can help you reach more people, engage them in your messages, and, ultimately, drive the business outcomes you’re aiming to achieve.