Why staff ignore your emails



There’s a communications paradox in most businesses. 

Staff say their bosses never tell them anything.

Bosses say staff are being bombarded.

What’s going on here?

Back when I was working in corporates, we’d all go through an employee engagement survey, usually every year or two. You might have experienced one of these?

A survey that asks people what they think of the company they’re working in, and how their leaders are performing.

Invariably, one of the big survey findings was “staff feel they are not informed”.

Leaders would scratch their heads, perplexed as to why what they were sharing with their teams was not getting through. At least, not enough to improve the rating in a survey.

And oftentimes this feedback would cause a flurry of activity, with weekly emails and CEO roadshows suddenly appearing in the already congested communications landscape.

And so it would go.

More communications would be produced, thinking more is clearly better, and “that will solve it!”

Staff inboxes and calendars would spill over with said communications.

Everyone, leaders and staff, would be left with less time to engage with what was actually important.

Does this sound familiar to you?

People complaining about being bombarded but at the same time, complaining about not being kept informed?

The reality, when staff tell you they’re not feeling informed by your communications, is that it is usually a problem of perception.

You may be “informing” them but they don’t perceive it that way. A bit like Teflon, the message doesn’t stick. They ignore you.

And why? We have a problem of relevance. And that’s a result of three communications mistakes:

Not now

Not me

Not that

In terms of Not Now, messages that are about the past or too far into the future are less likely to feel relevant, and less likely to be remembered. I care less if it’s not about now.

Not Me? That’s when your message doesn’t spell out why it’s relevant to that person. It may actually be relevant, but it doesn’t come across that way.

And Not That? Perhaps most irritating of all, a message that should be relevant but isn’t helpful at all. In fact, it may create more confusion and uncertainty than it seeks to address.

Five bases to cover

So what do we do to fix this situation?

We need to fix both what we actually do to communicate, but also how people perceive we communicate. 

I’m going to kick you off with a few ideas, but really, your fastest way to be a master at influencing action - which is ultimately what communications are about - is to take my online course, Influencing Action.

In it I take you through all the behavioural science of why people behave the way they do, and what to do differently.

But for now, some questions to ask yourself before you put out a communication.

  1. Why? What’s the behavioural objective? What’s the behaviour we want to see? Do we want them to do something as a result, or do nothing?
  2. Who? Who is this for? Is it “Do something” for some people but “Do nothing” for others? Remember, we want to avoid a “Not Me” reaction.
  3. How? How is it best communicated? This includes the channel, tone and who it comes from (the messenger).
  4. When? When will it “land” best with the audience you are trying to influence? Time of day? Time of week? Time of year? This is about avoiding a “Not Now” response.
  5. What? What’s the substance of your message? How will you pull it together to make sure it is relevant, engaging and meaningful? This is to avoid “Not that”.

Working through these questions will at least get you started on resolving those paradoxical complaints, when your staff tell you they don’t feel informed, yet they also tell you they feel overwhelmed.

Communicate less, be understood more.

When you know how to change behaviour, you can change your world.


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