Are Your Communication Skills as Good as You Say?

smiling business woman on phone taking notes

Every employee benefits professional can provide you with an example of when they did not communicate effectively. I certainly have my share of miscommunication stories to tell. One occurred during an annual open enrollment meeting where I told employees that their health insurance premiums were going up but not as much as they would if we did not change insurance carriers. To my surprise, a significant number of the employees present interpreted my statement to mean that their premiums were not going up. In future meetings I told employees that their insurance premiums were increasing by 3%.

What did I do wrong in the first meeting? My statement was unclear, too long, and unfocused. But I really wanted everyone to know how much money I saved them!

Excellent Communication or Effective Communication

Communication is defined as providing information. It is not a difficult skill to master. Many people can transmit data excellently. Effective communication includes the transmission and receipt of information. It is a rare skill that requires continuous effort. Few people do it well. Your excellent communication skills may get you the job, but your effective communication skills will set you apart from the crowd.

As an employee benefits professional, you will write lots of emails, letters and summaries. At a minimum, your writing cannot include spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors. At its most effective, your writing and speaking will be brief and clear. Do not assume that because you find employee benefits interesting and easy to understand that those you communicate with will also. They won’t.

Challenges of Communicating Employee Benefits Effectively

  • Lack of Clarity. Employee benefits are subject to a large number of federal and state laws. Some of which dictate what benefits information an employee must receive. Trying to create one document that contains legally required information and educational material that is easy to understand is a challenge.
  • Use of Jargon. Everyone knows that the employee benefits and insurance profession has its own language. And unless you use benefits jargon everyday it is hard to understand and remember its meaning. The average person struggles to understand terms like deductible, coinsurance, copay, and premium. Therefore, using them in any written or verbal communication automatically makes the information less clear.
  • Information Overload. It is tempting to provide a lot of information about different benefit plans at one time. However, this approach can overwhelm readers or listeners.

How to Communicate Employee Benefits Effectively

The way to communicate employee benefits more effectively is to address the challenges that this task presents. If clarity is king when it comes to communicating, make sure you write and speak clearly.

  • Write short sentences using words with few syllables
  • Do not use jargon, instead define what you mean and give an example (Instead of just using the words deductible and coinsurance, provide an example of what these terms mean in the real world. Break you example down into short sentences or use a chart)
  • Communicate at the average person’s reading and/or grade level (Use a tool like Microsoft Word Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level and Reading Ease—open a Word document and go to Tools/Spelling and Grammar/Options/Show Readability Statistics)
  • Create simple education materials to compliment the Summary Plan Description (SPD) and use the SPD only for compliance purposes
  • Write and speak in a conversational way (If you use contractions when you speak; use them when your write also. Ignore the grammar check rule to change can’t into cannot…)
  • Read great benefit materials written by others
  • Focus on one or two topics at a time
  • Edit and Rearrange (You will always say or write more than you should)

All job ads include a "must have excellent communication skills" requirement. Sometimes the wording is slightly more specific, such as, "must have excellent written and verbal communication skills." Regardless of the wording and not surprisingly, all applicants claim to meet this qualification. If recruiters changed the word “excellent” to “effective”, fewer people could claim this skill.

Do you have any communication horror stories?
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