It may be the latest hot topic for internal communication blogs and conferences, but how do we actually apply scientific findings to our everyday working lives as communicators? AQ teams up with neuroscience advocate Deborah Hulme to find out
Science. I don’t know about you, but the mere thought of it is enough to send me sprinting in the opposite direction, back towards my editorial comfort zone. But after an increased interest in the connection between internal communication and neuroscience, it seems it’s time to see one particular scientific discipline as friend rather than foe.
Starting at the beginning
In essence, neuroscience is pretty much what it says on the tin: the study of brain. Thanks to improvements in technology over the last 15 years or so, scientists have been able to get a much better understanding of how the brain works and how chemical reactions in the brain affect our behaviour.
Now previously we’ve worked with our friends in social and behavioural sciences, but this is fairly new territory for internal communicators. Take Deborah Hulme, Director at Minerva Engagement, for example. After working in employee engagement for 20 years, it’s only been in the last couple of years that Deborah has started to take a special interest in neuroscience – and eventually to give talks on the topic.
She says, “When it comes to internal communication, so much of our work is grounded in behaviour – how employees absorb and respond to information – that it’s useful to be aware of these new findings coming over the fence.”
When it comes to internal communication, so much of our work is grounded in behaviour – how employees absorb and respond to information – that it’s useful to be aware of these new findings coming over the fence.”
Recognising the benefits
But we’re already writers, orators, facilitators, advisors and trainers – what can else can neuroscience really bring to the table?
Deborah’s motivation is clear: “Neuroscience gives you a rational framework for what some leaders see as the ‘soft, pink, fluffy stuff’ – or in other words, a subjective discipline based on emotions.
“Throughout my career, I’ve found it frustrating that we’ve had very little concrete evidence – other than our observations of behaviour and gut instinct – to offer stakeholders when trying to argue our case,” she says.
“Neuroscience and its findings have given me that evidence and, through it, a language for talking to stakeholders about the importance of effective communication across organisations.”
So at a time when that role of ‘advisor’ is becoming increasingly important, neuroscience could become an integral part of our knowledge bank. As Deborah adds, “Although the leadership will ultimately make the big decisions, we have an important role in holding up the mirror to the organisation. Using neuroscience can help us to do that.”
Putting it into practice
So we’ve talked about where neuroscience came from and why it’s so important for us as communicators. That’s all very well and good. Now, how can this actually affect our work on a day-to-day basis?
Deborah outlines a few ways you can start thinking about the impact of your communications on employees’ behaviour.
Tell a good story
Scientifically speaking… “Storytelling is a big one. The human brain responds well to stories because we call on our own experiences to bring that story to life. That means you’re far more likely to emotionally connect to – and therefore remember – a story than a series of facts.”
So that means… Rather than pasting your values word for word and expecting employees to remember them parrot fashion, why not add employees’ own stories about how the values have affected them.
Help to build trust
Scientifically speaking… “You can’t order or demand trust, it has to be earnt. One of the best ways to build trust is consistency. This is more important in times of uncertainty; when stress levels and emotions are high and even company leaders don’t know the answers. We can’t stand to be in a state of uncertainty so if the communications function doesn’t maintain consistent messaging, people will make it up for themselves.”
So that means… Even when you can’t give employees the answer, make sure you coach leaders to speak up and not be afraid of looking clueless. It’s far better to say “We can’t say because we don’t know the answer yet” than to leave employees in bewildered silence.
Make it relevant
Scientifically speaking… “It’s said that each day we’re bombarded by the equivalent of 174 newspapers’ worth of data. Our brains can’t possibly process it all so if we consider a piece of information to be irrelevant our brains will screen it out before it even hits our consciousness.”
So that means… You need to truly understand your audience so you can put your messages into a context that their brains will recognise and relate to. Explore this through audience segmentation – it might seem like a mammoth task but HR will have a vat of information (from age and length of employment to job roles and responsibility) to tap into to get you started.