Inclusive communication for leaders: what it means & five habits to adopt

By Aimee Happ
April 23, 2021
6 min read

This year, it seems that everyone is talking about supporting diversity and inclusion within their organization. This theme even appears in the second spot in the State of the Sector’s list of top internal communication trends of 2021.

But what does it mean to be inclusive? And how can you, as a leader, get started to set your organization up for success?

It’s simply not enough to say your organization is diverse and inclusive in your mission, vision, or values—as we all know, saying and doing something are two completely different things. To really support diversity and inclusion within your organization, you must practice inclusive communication.

In this blog post, we’ll explore what inclusive communication means and provide you with a list of five habits that you can adopt today to improve the way you communicate with your employees. Let’s get started!

What is inclusive communication?

At its essence, inclusion within an organizational context is about welcoming, developing, and advancing a diverse mix of individuals. But beyond that, it’s about ensuring that all of those individuals feel valued. It’s being willing and able to change practices that unfairly benefit any one group and ensuring that everyone feels that they have the same opportunity to make an impact.

Inclusive communication, in turn, all comes down to an awareness of the way we communicate with employees every day. Communication style goes a long way to building up and bringing down levels of inclusivity in the workplace. The power of the written and spoken word should not be discounted and can have a huge impact on whether or not employees feel valued.

Unfortunately, a recent study from Quantified Communications showed that despite the recent emphasis on inclusion in organizations today, very few leaders have an inclusive communication style. The good news is that inclusive communication is something that anyone can improve upon. Here’s how it’s done.

How to improve your inclusive communication: the top five habits of inclusive leaders

If you’re looking to promote inclusivity within your organization, read on for a list of the top five communication habits of inclusive leaders.

Habit #1: be personal

To improve your inclusive communication, try to use more personalized and audience-centered language. As noted by the Harvard Business Review, start by considering the needs, values, interests, and demographics of the employees you are speaking to, and adapt your communications accordingly. Consider what language and references they may be able to relate to (and which they cannot) and always be cognizant that their perspectives may be different than your own.

In order to better understand your audience, you’ll also need to provide them with opportunities to express their needs. A great way to start is by asking for employee feedback via surveys or even on the individual internal comms messages that you send out. However, don’t just ask—the most important part is acknowledging and implementing the feedback of your employees.

Psst! Audience segmentation in internal comms is also plays a role in helping you to understand your audiences. Learn more about it in this webinar recording.

Habit #2: watch your language

When you communicate with employees, you need to be mindful of the language choices that you’re making. Do your best to lead with empathy and recognize your unconscious biases.

Instead of using too many first-person pronouns (i.e. “I”) try to use more second-person pronouns and phrases that reinforce your team environment (i.e. “together” and “we”). Also, avoid gendered pronouns, such as “guys”, “chairman”, and “manpower”.

Want to learn more about how to check for implicit biases in your messaging? Download our free template to get started today!

Habit #3: focus on relationships

Without an audience, you can’t be a leader. Building up your relationships with your team should always be a top priority. Practice active listening, and make an effort to understand the needs of your team and validate their perspectives. Be curious and ask about the well-being of your employees. As their leader, show the team that you truly care about them.

In turn, your employees are more likely to respect and value the perspectives of their colleagues when their leader has done the same for them. It’s a win-win scenario.

Habit #4: be authentic

You’ve probably heard this one before… but what does authenticity really mean? Authenticity is the audience’s perception that someone appears genuine, that they are communicating naturally, and that their words match their intentions and actions.

In the context of inclusive communication, authenticity is a leader’s ability to discuss with others rather than to speak at them. Authentic communication is both memorable and engaging, and allows leaders to connect with employees on a deeper level. Try to promote understanding rather than just informing your audience.

Improve the authenticity of your face-to-face and video communications by not reading from a script, speaking and moving conversationally, and showing emotion when appropriate. You can improve the authenticity of your written communications by following through on your promises, regularly asking for feedback, and building community within your organization.

To learn more about how you can build community authentically through your internal comms, check out our blog post on the topic.

Habit #5: set clear standards & expectations

To be a truly inclusive leader, it’s important to communicate clear standards and expectations for your employees, especially when it comes to performance. You will then be able to hold your whole team accountable to the same criteria, regardless of any unconscious biases that you or other leaders may have.

The main takeaway here is to focus on outcomes and results, rather than numbers of hours worked, for example. This is especially important as we shift into the world of hybrid work, which comes with its own opportunities and challenges.

We can all practice more inclusive communication

Keep in mind that communication is a behavior, and, no matter where you find yourself in your career today, we can all learn to be more inclusive. You’re never wasting time when you go the extra mile to ensure that everyone on your team feels seen, heard, and valued.

If you still need help, we’d be happy to provide more best practices and advice. Our intranet software solution features a multi-channel messaging tool, which can also help you to segment your audiences, gather employee feedback, and create a sense of community among your employees. Book a demo to see our intranet software in action, or head to our technology page to learn more.

Not quite ready for a full demo? Take our free, 5-minute internal communications assessment to see which areas of your internal comms program are strongest and weakest. You’ll also receive several free resources to help you improve.

By Aimee Happ

Aimee Happ is proud to lead the marketing team at IC and enjoys working with the dynamic and diverse team that surrounds her. She is inspired on a daily basis by the company's mission of empowering internal communicators. Aimee holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Calgary and loves to travel.