The purpose of any communication falls into one of two categories: to inform or call to action. When people talk to each other, it’s either to share information or to ask someone to do something. When there is a call to action, it can either be through a direct request or it can be implied.

In case you’re wondering, an implied call to action is along the lines of, “I’m thirsty.” In this case the person may very well want you to get them something to drink or would at least be receptive if you offered them something to drink.

In business, communicating to inform and call to action are ongoing activities that are not always clearly separated. If an employee shares a story with you about a problem they are having, do they want you to be aware of the problem or do they want you to do something about it? It can be a tough call.

As you communicate with your employees, they are faced with the same challenge of determining what you want them to understand or do. The best way to clear up that ambiguity is to start by being clear about your own intentions.

When talking with an employee, what is your purpose? Is your goal to inform or call to action? Do you want them to understand something, do something, or both? Notifying someone of a policy change, for example, is likely to be driven by the need for them to be aware of the change (inform) as well as to incorporate that information into future behavior (call to action).

If they don’t comply with the policy change you may have an understanding issue or a buy-in issue. Start by making sure they understand what is expected. If they understand, but have chosen not to follow along, you have a buy-in issue. Now you’ve got your work cut-out for you, because for some reason they are not in agreement with you about the course of action they should take. Begin a discussion to help you bridge the gap between where you are and where they are.


John Ryan

Host of Key Conversations for Leaders Podcast, Executive Coach, Consultant, and Trainer

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