top of page


Who Is Actually Reading Your Communications?

10 Tips to Manage the Unintended Consequences of Your Communication

Ron Rogers.jpg

By Ron Rogers, Jeff Winton Associates Consultant

When you write a message intended for employees, it can be shared in a nanosecond outside the company. Take the case of Elon Musk, for example. As fast as he issues a message, memo, or letter to his Twitter employees, they are leaked to unintended audiences such as the media, celebrities, politicians, and critics. Very often these leaked messages are taken out of context or are misinterpreted by the unintended “co-communicators,” resulting in unwanted attention, or in Musk’s case severe ad hominem attacks. 


Musk and Twitter are not the only ones to suffer such indignities. Countless companies and individuals have had their confidential or private messages land in unintended places. I once had a news reporter forward confidential information about a story to a competitor ahead of publication. I remember feeling consternated at the time, but it taught me a valuable and enduring lesson.


Ask yourself, has one of your emails, memos, or text messages ever been forwarded to someone unexpectedly? How did it make you feel? Was the outcome positive or negative? How did it affect your relationships? 


Odds are you experienced the effects of an unintended communication at some point in your career. When messages land in unexpected hands, the negative consequences can capsize your business and personal goals. Examples include:

  • Breaches of privacy and personal information

  • Propagation of false or misleading information

  • Increasing inequality in the workforce

  • Lost sales or customers

  • Alienation or social isolation (i.e., being “cancelled”)

  • Damage to your personal or company’s reputation

  • Litigation

The good news is that with practice, introspection and effort, it is possible to better manage your unintentional communication. 


10 Tips for Improving Your Communication Competency

  1. Define your intended audience and tailor your message to this group of primary co-communicators.

  2. Anticipate that your email, text, memo, or report will be forwarded. Note that negative news travels especially fast (example: layoffs or restructuring).

  3. Identify what other parties might see your communication. The individuals are your secondary co-communicators.

  4. Reflect on whether your message may threaten your primary or secondary co-communicators’ sense of control or self-esteem. If yes, consider reframing the message in a more positive light.

  5. Draft your message offline and make revisions until you feel the message is right.

  6. Keep your message concise and only include vital information to reduce misunderstanding.

  7. Select a communication channel appropriate to the message:

    • Routine or non-confidential messages are appropriately communicated via email.

    • Written communication is best if a permanent record is desired.

    • Sensitive tasks that involve personal, confidential, or critical messages are more appropriately communicated face-to-face. 

    • Social media is not appropriate for confidential or sensitive information or photos. 

  8. Approach email, texting and social media knowing that once you hit send your message is out there and you cannot take back messages. This can be especially damaging if sent quickly and appears unprofessional, emotional or incomplete.

  9. Review your email distribution list and avoid the temptation of hitting “reply all.”

  10. Enlist the support of an in-house or agency communications professional to help draft messages, particularly those that could be misconstrued or are sensitive. You also can ask a colleague to read your communication ahead of time and provide feedback. Evaluating the results of your communications is a fantastic way to continuously improve.


In summary, successful businesspeople use their experiences – successes and failures – to improve their communication skills. The tips above are meant to help you think about your co-communicators, the characteristics of your message and the channels used to communicate. Importantly, these tips are only useful if they are backed by disciplined practice.


Ron Rogers brings to Jeff Winton Associates more than three decades as a corporate communications counselor in the life sciences for Fortune 100, mid-sized and start-up companies. His expertise includes strategic communications planning, commercial execution and budget management. He is passionate about translating scientific information into best-in-class news and compelling narratives

bottom of page