Internal vs. External
|Internal vs. External Communication|
Communication is so complex and multifaceted, and fundamentally important in the successful leading of a team. For this reason it is something that leaders should spend a significant amount of their time focusing on.
In this module we will look specifically at the differences between internal and external communications. Internal communications being those that take place within your team or organisation. And, of course, external being those that take place between your team and any stakeholders outside of your organisation, such as parents, clients, or customers.
Let’s first of all take a look at what is needed for all communication to be effective, regardless of whether it is internal or external, verbal or written:
Firstly, clarity is crucially important. Whatever is communicated needs to be clearly done using plain language. This means, as far as possible, avoiding jargon, acronyms or slang. Clarity also implies paying attention to removing any ambiguity in your message.
Secondly, choose your mode of communication carefully so that it matches the purpose you are trying to achieve. For example, sending out a note reminding staff to bring in money for a bake sale on letter headed paper is not necessary. More effective and appropriate would be to send a brief message on the staff WhatsApp group or similar platform.
Thirdly, make sure that your communication is necessary. Over-communicating can be as damaging as under-communicating. It can result in your communications becoming ‘white noise’ for the recipients and this risks important information being lost amongst more trivial matters.
Finally, timing is key. Think carefully when you want to communicate and then stick to your plan. Communicating too early can cause confusion and may come across as irrelevant, whilst communicating too late may cause panic and confusion once again. Timing should be matched to what your recipients are expecting to hear at that time.
These principles apply to ALL communication whether it is internal or external. Now let’s have a look at how your communication may differ if you were communicating internally vs. externally.
Starting with style. This refers to the tone of your communication. We communicate in a very different way to our friends than we may communicate with parents of children at our school. When communicating with colleagues you can probably communicate relatively informally. Conversely, when communicating externally you may find it easier to make use of a more formal style.
As a general rule if we are communicating externally with anything relating to our business or work, we aim to use more formal language and tone. This gives off a more professional impression which is always very important as it builds confidence in you as a professional.
Whilst communicating internally does require you to remain professional at all times anyway, the tone of your communications with colleagues would sound strange if you were formal with them. It is likely that you could easily adopt a more informal tone yet remain professional. And even here you may need to consider carefully the tone that you use because communicating with your line manager may be very different from communicating with your team mate who teaches in the classroom next door. To a large extent, it comes down to personal judgement, but do pay attention to it and, especially if you are new to the organisation or the team, make sure you get to grips with the communication culture of the team so that you don’t end up inadvertently upsetting anyone.
Mode of communication
The mode of communication refers to the TOOLS that we choose to communicate. In any organisation you should experience several modes of communication in play. From company embossed letterheads, to communication apps and social media sites, to phone calls and emails. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages.
Any communication that goes out on a company letterhead is likely to be an important bit of information that you are, in effect, staking the reputation of the organisation on. That’s why you use a letterhead. Therefore, these should be used in the most formal of situations.
On the other end of the scale far more use is made nowadays of electronic modes of communication, such as an APP, a WhatsApp group or an email. More and more organisations are now also using voice and video to communicate with their clients and stakeholders (whether they be internal or external).
Bear in mind that any written communication, whether it be an email, whatsapp message or a formal letter, creates a paper trail and this is sometimes important and necessary. Conversations, unless recorded in minutes or voice memo, cannot easily be retrieved if needed. If there is a need for a paper trail to be created, either make use of written communication, or make sure that a written record of it is made for future reference. But do remember, that when communicating, if a conversation can be had, recorded or not, it is always more powerful than sending written communication.
Once again it will come down to choice as to what you use but in general it is more likely that you will use the more formal tools such as email and letters with your external stakeholders and more informal tools such as WhatsApp or voice notes with your team.
Internally you can hold different expectations of your team members. Team members should be made aware of a communications policy that outlines the expectations of the organisation. For example if it is agreed, and written in policy, that people check their email every 24 hours, then you can, and should, expect that your team members hold themselves accountable for this. In essence employees of an organisation should be expected to adhere to the guidelines outlined in the policy. Of course, wise leaders arrive at these guidelines through careful and ongoing consultation with their teams so that everybody has a say in how best the team communication culture can operate. In this way you, as the leader, can generate significant team ownership of the processes and protocols and therefore gain maximum buy-in from your team.
Communicating with external stakeholders, however, is quite different in principle. It is the role of the senior leaders in any organisation to make sure that they keep pace with how their client community takes on information. If they can do this successfully and well, it will give them the understanding as to how to adjust the communication culture and strategy accordingly. Forcing an external community into communication modes that they are not familiar with, or that they no longer use, will only cause you headaches, and probably ultimately damage your reputation in the community. I cannot stress the importance of this enough! As a leader, keep your finger on the pulse of your community and you will reap the rewards for your attentiveness.
Communication is moving so fast these days that it remains an ongoing challenge for organisations. It was not long ago that people relied heavily on email. Within the space of a few years, more informal tools such as WhatsApp have, arguably, taken over as the predominant communication tool used by communities.
You, as the leader of the team, have to be paying attention to your communication all the time, whether this is externally or internally. But the key takeaway for today is that words are so important. Whether these are spoken or written, in a text or on a formal letterhead, your words will hold weight with whomever you are communicating so remember to think them through beforehand, be patient with them and use them wisely and to great effect.
For this reason it is important to have a thoroughly thought through communication policy where expectations are clearly outlined for all of those people that it affects, and then communicate this policy clearly and effectively to everyone concerned.
Point of Reflection
Consider how WhatsApp is used in your organisation as a communication tool. Reflect on the power of this as a tool, but also consider where it may be detrimentally utilised. Why is this?
Personal Development Activity
Sorting Activity (30 mins)
Below is a list of 10 different communications that you may experience at a school. In your leadership journal create a Carroll diagram similar to the one below, and sort the items into the relevant boxes of the table:
- Letter to parents about an upcoming PTA fun event
- Disciplinary record sharing about a child, with the parents
- Notice to teachers about the staff party at the end of year
- Video message explaining the use of the online learning platform for children
- Email message to parents about a fundraising drive for the local charity
- Message on the staff whatsapp group requesting volunteers for coving lunchtime rota
- Notice of appraisals for a staff members
- Advertising Poster for the annual drama production
- Student end of year reports
- Weekly bulletin to staff
- Termly newsletter to parents
Can you see any that you feel would belong in more than one box? If you can, reflect on where you may place this if the choice was up to you.