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Communicating with Millennials, Part 4: Check Your Tone

by Ann Allsopp

So far in our Communicating with Milllennials series, we’ve covered how to:

But have you ever heard the phrase “it’s not what you say but how you say it?” This week, we’re talking about an important element across every part of your compliance program: your tone.

Keep It Human

Growing up, my parents introduced their friends to me by their first names. I was encouraged to be polite but to speak freely with anyone at our table. And I wasn’t the only one: research shows that most millennials became comfortable talking to adults at a young age. We were also encouraged by our parents to think critically and challenge authority, and to speak up and ask for what we believe we deserve.

So when we reach the workplace, it seems only natural that our supervisors should communicate with us freely and frequently, even about ongoing strategic decisions at the higher management level. But, this is where millennials sometimes clash with other generations in the workplace: our “lack of formality regarding status, structure, or propriety” may make senior workers feel disrespected.

As it turns out, this kind of open communication is actually good for a company, including other generations who may not at first be comfortable with it. Open communication allows employees to honestly discuss mistakes and improve performance, while companies that stifle communication see higher turnover rates, lost revenues, and unhappy employees.

But whether you think this lack of formality makes us rude or forward-thinking, it’s worth keeping these expectations in mind when you’re developing content for a millennial audience. A letter from the CEO is great, but it’s not enough to make me read a binder full of legalese.

So how do you get a millennial to read your compliance content? For starters, make it easy to read. Back in December, Renee provided some great advice: “Think like a lawyer, but please don’t write like one!” This is especially important when it comes to communicating with millennials. Skip the legal terms and instead focus on creating clear instructions and policies that anyone can understand.

Better yet, try to address your employees as humans with human problems. It’s important to lay down the rules and explain the consequences for breaking a policy, but the rules won’t mean much until your employees see how those rules apply to them as individuals. Provide example situations employees may come up against. Acknowledge that the laws can be complicated and the answer may not always be clear, so they should always feel comfortable asking a question.

Finding Your Tone

“But,” I can hear you saying, “I’m writing compliance content here. Important legal stuff. This isn’t a casual dinner with your mom’s friends.” I hear ya.

 

It’s important to find a tone that fits your company’s culture. The tone is an expression of the people behind the brand. The edgy language of a start-up could sound ridiculous on the pages of a Fortune 500 company’s Code of Ethics.

 

But how do you find that tone? Here are some tips.

  1. Skip the passive language. Talking like a human means you can’t talk like a robot. Passive voice is great when you want to avoid pointing fingers (which is why lawyers love it), but for explaining company values and policies? Not so great. Keep your language active and clear. Better yet, address your audience directly with words like “we” and “you.”
  2. Check out the annual report. Chances are your company put a lot of work into that annual report, from the design to the language. That makes it a great starting point in finding the “face” your company presents to the world.
  3. Watch those ads. Look at any advertising or marketing materials your company has produced. Is the copy quirky and spunky? Strong and direct? Take those cues to build out the language in your compliance content.
  4. Read out loud. You know your company’s tone, because you’re a part of it every day. Pay attention to how you and your coworkers talk at work, and then read your compliance content out loud. Does it fit the conversation? Or does it bring everything to a hard, legalese-laden, screeching halt?

You’ll know the right tone when you find it, because it will feel natural to you and your employees.

Ready to find a tone that resonates with ALL of your employees? We can help. Schedule a free consultation with the Rethink Compliance experts.

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