Improve Your HR Communication Skills

Laurie Ruettimann Communication, Employee Communications, HR, HR (& Life!) Advice, Laurie Ruettimann, Learning

I’m a full-time writer, and I’ve been helping HR leaders and HR technology vendors communicate more effectively for many years. It’s the favorite part of my job. I love rethinking the way we interact with one another, and I want to share my advice with you.

First of all, most of us mistakenly feel we have good communication skills.

If we ranked our abilities, we would put ourselves somewhere between Ronald Reagan and Jesus because we work in HR and understand “human psychology.”

In fact, that’s wrong. HR professionals and recruiters are awkward and (very often) insecure. Their speaking and writing skills show it. I include myself in this group. We get caught up in our psychodrama and rarely consider our fellow colleagues, clients or even our competitors when we have something crucial to say.

So my first piece of advice is simple: change your language and stop suffering from imposter syndrome.

Drop the business jargon and the legalese. Stop trying to sound like a jackass lawyer or a Silicon Valley douchebag. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience. What would you want to hear? How would you want someone to speak to you?

I would also advise you to think of someone you admire in recruiting or HR. How does she speak? What do you like about her communication skills? What makes her so effective?

Once you get your confidence up, it’s time to do a quick exercise and define your tone.

Do you want to be seen as empathetic? Informative? Fun? Stern? Your tone will enhance your words, but if you get it wrong and sound condescending or ill-prepared, your tone will be the only thing people remember.

Now let’s explore what you’re trying to say.

Whatever it is—good news or bad—you should use fewer words. If your factory is downsizing and jobs are moving overseas, get to the end of that story as fast as possible.

“You are losing your job. Your last day of employment is Friday. We are very sorry.”

If benefits are changing, don’t give a thesis on the economic impact of the Affordable Care Act. Be plainspoken and direct.

“We switched health insurance providers. You might have to change doctors. Your health insurance premiums are going up 12%, this year.”

If someone didn’t get a job or a promotion, the best approach isn’t to offer career services like you’re a college coach. Give the news, and if there’s feedback, break it down to its core.

“You didn’t get the job. They hired an internal candidate.”

Once you deliver a concise message, it’s time to pause.

Holy smokes, please, for the love of God, just shut up for a few seconds. Give your audience the time and space to process the relevant news. Ask if they have any questions. Don’t rush it.

When you’re ready to move forward, supplement your “headline” with supporting materials.

  • If there’s a packet of information, hand over the package and invite people to follow-up with you when they’ve had time to read the materials and formulate some questions.
  • If there’s a significant amount of paperwork for an employee to digest, make sure you have a cheat sheet with frequently asked questions (FAQs) right on top.
  • And if you have supporting examples to share which will help an employee understand what you’re trying to communicate, offer those examples.

Great HR communicators aren’t born. They are made.

Most importantly, they practice and learn from their mistakes. So please step out of your experience and consider what other people want to hear. Speak in an appropriate tone. Use fewer words. Don’t rush any questions. Then provide supporting material that is helpful, orderly and well-written.

Good luck!

Laurie Ruettimann
Laurie Ruettimann is a former HR leader and an influential speaker, writer and marketing advisor. Her work has appeared in many mainstream print publications and major news media outlets. You can find her on twitter at @Lruettimann.