No one understands behavioral competency, broadbanding or the difference between KPIs and OKRs. Employees need to care, but it’s complicated – and you need to convey complex information.
It’s critical to communicate complex information so employees “get it.” Why? U.S. businesses lose $1.2 trillion a year due to poor communication, according to research by Grammarly and Harris Poll.
“How’s that possible?” you might ask. Let’s suppose Gretchen doesn’t fully understand how she’s supposed to send the report and it goes out late. And the team that needed to see the data misses a deadline. Ten big customers don’t get what they want, so they switch. Goodbye $1 million!
Extreme? Maybe. But poor communication habits will take their toll on something – whether it’s the bottom line, internal relationships or workplace harmony.
“One of the reasons people fail in communication is because they’re stuck inside their own heads, and they can’t understand the perspective of their audience,” says Bruce Lambert, Director of the Center for Communication and Health at Northwestern University. “This is the especially true if you have complex information to communicate.”
The good news: Leaders can convey complex information, turning what’s boring into compelling and what’s confusing into fascinating.
Here are six strategies to communicate complex information so employees understand and can do their jobs effectively.
Start with intrigue
People will try harder to understand information – complex or simple – when they’re interested in it from the get-go. So get them intrigued before you start to break down the complex information.
A couple of tactics:
Give them the WIFM (What’s In It For Me). Tease your audience with how information will benefit them in the end. For instance, “You want to know how you can save 25% on your health insurance costs this year, right?”
Set up the suspense. Instead of a scary suspense, give employees a sunny suspense. For instance, “A third of your colleagues saved 25% on their healthcare costs last year. You should be able to do it this year.”
Simplify (again and again)
Lambert has found that most people think they’ve simplified their message to the barest bones and they’re still steps away from people actually understanding it.
His best advice: “simplify far beyond when you think you’ve simplified enough.”
One way – and this is an old tool we use in journalism – is to break it down like you’re explaining it to your grandmother. Of course, she’s smart and sassy, and she likely only needs the most basic version to grasp the concept.
Focus on the problem
When you need to communicate complex information, focus on the problem it solves rather than on describing what the solution does or how something works.
For instance, avoid getting into how employees can change elections so their benefits plan costs less. Instead, focus on the problem – perhaps, high deductibles – and how two changes during enrollment can lessen those.
Divide and conquer
When your audience must know background or broader information – details you need include beyond the problem – break it into two categories. Then drop a few items in each so they can recognize the difference and more easily digest the information.
For instance, in the case of healthcare benefits, you might break them down to Me & We. You could say, “‘Me’ is the care you pay for – such as deductible, co-pay and express clinic care . ‘We’ is the care insurance pays for – such as costs beyond co-pay and deductible, annual well visits, emergency care.”
Compare the unfamiliar to the familiar
When people can see the correlation between something they’re familiar with and something that’s foreign to them, the foreign becomes familiar.
When possible, compare something complex to something that touches their everyday lives.
For instance, employees might not understand all the codes associated with the care they receive – the codes that health care providers use to diagnose and bill, which show up on the Explanation of Benefits (EOBs). But they likely see the codes associated with produce and deli items in the supermarket. So you might say, “Health care codes, like supermarket codes, are a universal language that allow everyone from healthcare providers to insurers to you manage your well-being.”
Communicating complex information doesn’t come naturally, Lambert warns.
First, you’ll want to memorize key phrases – those that break down the complex information into its most essential parts. That way, you’ll always know what to say and can lean into those if people seem confused.
Finally, when you know you’ll need to convey complex information, practice in front of the mirror, on video and with friends until it’s second nature.