Policies Send Out Unintended Messages

Yes, it’s true. An organization’s policies communicate both its intended messages and its unintended ones.

The intended messages are read directly from the provisions in the policy. Most policies arise out of a bona fide attempt to create standards that will benefit everyone connected with the organization. Organizations tend to devote a lot of time to these messages, ensuring that the statements in their policies are accurate.

The unintended messages are the overtones and undertones, hidden between the lines. These are the messages that say things like the following:

  • We’re rigid or We’re flexible
  • We care… or We don’t care… what impact this decision has on you
  • We thank you for supporting this rule or Don’t even think about trying to get around this one!

As the writer, it’s very difficult for you to hear the underlying messages of your own policies unless you stop to listen.

But you can be sure that your employees and your customers hear them. Loud and clear. So do potential employees and potential clients, both of whom will be turned away by the wrong messages. In most cases you will never even know that they ever stopped by.

Are you trying to treat people with respect? You want them to feel comfortable, so you pay attention to the office furniture, to the computers, to the phones, to everything including the colour of the paint on the walls. How much attention are you paying to make sure the wording of your policies isn’t sending out negative messages?

More Policy Writing Tips

For more information

You’ll find information on writing titles for policy instruments and many related topics in Respectful Policies and Directives, available at any bookstore.

Perfect Policies.org offers workshops that help you organize your policy instruments. Contact us for details.


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Lewis S. Eisen

Lewis has over 35 years’ experience in law, technology, government, and adult education.

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