How to communicate around sensitive topics
The world is a complicated place and humans are complicated beings. There are many sensitive, but important, topics that cannot be avoided in this time we call now! From extremist behaviour to gender inequality, from LGBTQ+ rights to domestic abuse, to more general issues like mental health (surely exacerbated by the Covid pandemic), such topics sometimes need addressing via business comms, and doing so can scare the whatsits out of even experienced communicators.
But avoiding these issues is not the solution if you want your business to present itself as worldly, current and credible. Including appropriate scope and relevant channels for information and conversation within your comms strategy will help you tackle the challenging issues of the day as they arise or gain relevance within your organisation.
With that in mind, here is a Guru guide on some of the basics for tackling the topics that might top your worry list.
Research is everything
Nothing will undermine your brave attempt at addressing a thorny topic like incorrect or out-of-date facts and figures. You need to come across as credible and informed. Regurgitating some eye-catching (and eyebrow-raising, possibly stomach-turning) post from your keyboard-warrior mate on Facebook is not the place to start.
Your piece should be backed up with recent and relevant statements or data from a verified, reliable source. Quoting that verified, reliable source can underline its authenticity and validity with your audience.
No-one will expect you to be an omniscient expert on every sensitive issue that affects the world (or even just your world of work). But grab opportunities to learn and to connect with all walks of life, and challenge yourself to look at both sides of a story, regardless of your personal view at the time.
Style as well as substance
Your company’s “tone of voice” and brand personality is important, but if your usual tone is one of humour and light-heartedness, that may need to be dropped for more serious or sensitive content. Appropriateness, empathy and mindfulness are key. Even if the topic doesn’t personally affect you, could there be members of your audience for whom this is a difficult, upsetting or personal subject?
Short, professional videos are the best way of delivering information around delicate subjects. It can convey sensitivity, compassion and warmth far more effectively than the written word can ever hope to deliver.
If you have people within your organisation who have personal experience of, or otherwise expertise in, your topic, then featuring their voices within your piece can add authenticity and gravitas, as well as underlining the relevance of the comms to those who perhaps might not otherwise see its significance.
Ask for feedback
Getting a second (or more) pair of eyes to look over your message before it is shared can only be beneficial. It can be easy to miss something written in all innocence that could be misconstrued. If that second pair of eyes belong to someone with a very different background or experiences from your own, then all the better. They may view your post from quite a different perspective from that in which you wrote it.
Invite, but moderate, conversation
If your comms is shared via a platform such as Workplace or Slack, then people may wish to comment on your post. Increased awareness is always a good thing, and the aim is often for people to ask questions or share their own experiences. However, ensure that questions are answered, and comments are moderated for appropriateness and due sensitivity.
If the comms is likely to spark conversations at a local level, make sure that the relevant leaders are equipped and ready to host and moderate these.
And remember that not every sensitive topic will have a clear answer or conclusion. Know when to stop and don’t be afraid to signpost to other relevant resources, organisations or services if required.
Further reading: How Inclusivity & Diversity affect Internal Comms