managing expectations in communication

How to Overcome Government Bureaucracy in Communication

Effective communication with Congress, partners, financial backers, and stakeholders is critical to the organizational success of Federal agencies. We have developed several blogs about communicating your value and the web is full of tips for communicating with stakeholders and tools for effective communication to achieve your mission. But what if your ability to communicate effectively is stymied by forces beyond your control? In today’s Federal climate interagency collaboration is a key strategy to cut costs and minimize redundancy. Agencies often work together to solve a problem or support a shared stakeholder. However, bureaucracy both within and outside your agency can be the biggest roadblock to effective communication. Each agency has its own bureaucratic structure and therefore its own system of vetting and approving information for release. If your organization must collaborate with outside partners and must communicate with stakeholders you are probably familiar with the following challenges:

  • Keeping Secrets – There is a lag between when you know something and when you can provide that information to those who need it
  • The rumor mill – Lack of information leads to misinformation
  • Are we there yet? – Stakeholders ask the same question over and over

All of these challenges can have serious consequences, including informational leaks, anger over widespread bad information, and frustration for those asking and answering the same questions over and over.

Here are three tips for overcoming the challenges caused by communication roadblocks.

1. Manage Expectations

Hey, the Federal government moves slowly. That is a fact. You can say it. Your stakeholders might forget that the Federal government may not be able to provide information at the same speed as local government, and especially not as fast as private industry. Once you call out that fact you have “named it and claimed it.” Your stakeholders will know what to expect and can start to work within your limitations accordingly.

2. Stick to the 3 “Cs” – Clear, Consistent, and Concise

When information is hard to get out, it is important that what does get out is clear, consistent, and concise. Every person involved in delivering your message should speak with one voice, so that there is no confusion. When your stakeholders get together to compare notes, you want them to say, “Yeah, I heard that too.” If not, they will come back to you over and over for clarification, or worse, rumors will spread and your credibility will be called into question.

3. Stop Talking

In the absence of information, it is not uncommon for people to talk in circles to fill the void. This can create confusion and frustration on the part of the listener. Just stop talking. Let your stakeholders tell you what they need and why they are frustrated. All you have to say is, “I understand and I will give you more information as soon as I am able.” Your stakeholders will probably keep asking you for more information, but they will feel confident that you are working to get it for them.


Tell us—how does your organization overcome bureaucratic challenges to getting information out?