A real-life example: “Come, but don’t bother us”

Most people are totally unaware of the hidden messages their policies send.

I came across this policy text (labelled “Requirements”) on a non-profit Web site this week, at the top of a page ostensibly inviting people to join as members:

“Membership in the Association is granted to eligible individuals only. Membership cannot be granted to an organization.”

Most people are totally unaware of the hidden messages their policies send. Similar to a crack in the ceiling plaster, you can walk by it every day without seeing it, unless you know what to look for.

The wording of this “requirement” is uncomfortably revealing: this organization has a recurring problem with groups asking if they can be members. Hidden in the overt statement against it are these implied messages:

  1. we’re not flexible about this rule
  2. don’t even bother to ask if you can be an exception, and
  3. we’re tired of telling people this; they should read these rules before they talk to us.

There is a subtle but clearly perceptible undertone of frustration evident in the wording of this policy, right from the outset.You've Been Warned!

Was it really the writer’s intention to sound this confrontational? I suspect not. Nor was it likely the writer’s intention to disclose publicly the frustration the office feels around the issue.

If this approach is in fact turning away prospective members, would the association  even be aware of it?

Don’t let this happen to your organization. Learn where to look for messaging problems in administrative policies, how to recognize them, and how to fix them.


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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