When you should not send out a communication

As business communicators, we place a high value on transparency in an organization. Our immediate tendency is to bend over backwards to reveal as much information as possible to our employee audiences about any given topic.

But I’m here to tell you that there are at least four scenarios I can think of when it’s best not to send out a communication. They are:

1) When there is absolutely no benefit to your organization or recipients. Your employees don’t have time to read meaningless or useless communications. Over-communicating could lead to you getting a reputation as someone who wastes other people’s valuable time.

2) When the information is related to a personnel issue regarding a single employee. If your organization has to fire someone for criminal activity, poor performance or attendance, abuse of others, or any other reason, that is not something everyone needs to know. (Of course, if the employee is the CEO or other senior officer, and your company is publicly traded, that’s another story altogether.)

3) When the information is truly confidential. At publicly traded companies, it’s illegal in some instances (such as quarterly earnings or a merger) to communicate with your employees before you inform the public because of possible insider trading.

4) When you don’t have complete information to write an accurate or meaningful communication. Let’s say your supervisor has given you a deadline to complete a communication but your primary source is on vacation. You need to be brave and say, “This project is going to have to wait. My primary source is not currently available for an interview.” I bet your supervisor will agree to push back the deadline.

There is one exception to that last rule. During a crisis or a period of great change: you need to communicate often, even if/when you don’t have complete information.

We saw this during the COVID pandemic. Organizations were communicating new workplace rules practically daily to their workers in reaction to the shifting healthcare landscape.

During a crisis, disaster, or monumental change in the workplace, your employees will accept the fact the organization is still trying to figure things out. But workers — and the public — still want the most up-to-date information you have. As long as you explain you don’t yet have all the facts, it’s okay to communicate what you do know.

Knowing when not to communicate is among the many principles I teach in the writing workshops I present to clients. Want to learn how I can help your organization improve its communications? Feel free to contact me.

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