Women, Spirit & Money: A Quick Study - Internal versus External Communications for New or Emerging Leaders

Officially, you’re the new leader. That means people are looking to you, and your sense of good judgment, to make decisions that will inform public perception of your business or brand. But how do you know what to do first?

Sherri L. McLendon

Sherri L. McLendon

Distinguish between internal and external communications.

Internal communications are those intended for ‘need to know’ eyes inside your business or staff. These types of communications include internal memorandums, emails, or work product, particularly those items which involve legal, contractual, trade, or financial negotiations. If you wouldn’t want the information to show up on the front page of the local news daily, assume that it’s for team members only.

External communications are those shared with the outside world. These include marketing and public relations areas of expertise, that is, the tactics which carry the brand message to the public. The job of these communications is to find the right audience for the brand’s compelling stories and achievements.

Be careful not to confuse organizational communications roles.

In some organizations, with a centralized brand identity, mission, and message, the public relations director may also be responsible for oversight of internal communications such as employee newsletters, or the marketing director may train teams in external sales techniques. Therefore, the two types of communication should remain carefully distinguished.

To make certain internal communications remain in-house, external communicators’ roles should be specifically identified at the beginnings of conversations with those individuals not employed as staff: consultants, members of the media, and, yes, board members, unless otherwise advised. It’s important to note that job titles do not always effectively communicate project roles, so ask for each to be delineated separately.

Focus communications to maintain purpose, confidentiality.

When working with an external communicator, ask the person on the other end of the conversation to specifically state their understanding of its purpose. If the purpose is unclear, if they don’t understand your role, or the call is unstructured, work out those particulars before sharing any information. Wisdom dictates that marketing and public relations consultants are bound by confidentiality agreements, so feel free to confirm up front that the call is covered by confidentiality should information requiring discretion be shared. However, be cautioned that reporters are under no such agreement, and their job is to report the news before their competitors can do so. Therefore, there is no such thing as “off the record.”

‘This call may be recorded.’

Last but not least, conduct yourself on the call as though the call is being recorded. Today, it’s not unusual for a two-party call to be recorded whether one has specifically given permission or not.

‘Bookending’ can help establish the parameters of a formal call, particularly should it be recorded. One might say, “Hello, this is (my name here). Let me confirm my understanding of our conversation. I am speaking with (insert name here), of (job title, business or department), and our primary purpose is to (outcome desired stated here). Is that correct?”

Even if you feel confident your calls are not recorded by a second party or an employer, bringing a heightened level of attention to what you’re saying and how it’s being said is a good course for any leader to follow. Plus, it gives you a chance to check spelling and currency of information before you put anything in writing.

Where the ethical line is for consultants.

When you, as a new leader, do not understand or communicate clearly to the team the consultant’s role or purpose, the consultant should do so, clearly and effectively. If their role has not been previously defined, stop there and share what you envision their role to be. Ask for confirmation.

Understand that everyone involved may not share your understanding of internal versus external communications, so you may wish to share up front these primary distinctions with team members. If a team member speaks out of turn, stop them immediately and remind them of the distinction. The sharing of confidential internal information constitutes a liability for the brand, and for you.

As a new leader, you may be focused on building your team and perhaps manage a wide range of personalities on your staff. The team will be looking for you to establish strong parameters around their roles. This is the time when particularly strong personalities will try to exert undue influence on your leadership. These types of situations offer an opportunity to set healthy boundaries internally.

A consultant’s support for a new leader should not be confused with coaching an individual leader in his or her business or career. It is not the consultant’s job to help the new leader find her footing. If the boundaries of the relationship are unclear, focus on defining how the consultant can assist, using internal versus external as a distinguishing factor. If you need a leadership mentor, in all probability there’s one nearby: look one or two rungs up the chain of command to identify a relationship worth cultivating.


“Women, Spirit and Money” conscious business coaching with Sherri L. McLendon, MA, is now online at www.womenspiritandmoney.biz. Sherri recently ranked #31 of the top 99 pros on Linked In within her area of expertise as a marketing public relations consultant and content strategist. Email her directly at sherri@sherrimclendon.com.

This entry was posted in January 2016 and tagged women spirit and money. Bookmark the permalink.

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