The A.C.E card of employee communication

There is a quantum gap between communication and information. Communication is a picture of a building on fire. Information is a statement saying “At 7:00 AM Tuesday morning a structure was the victim of a conflagration.” The first is emotional and evocative, the second is dry as dust and as memorable as white bread.

aceThe human brain processes danger, strong emotions, and risk up to 10 times deeper and faster than how it processes bland information and fuzzy future scenarios. This is why many change management efforts fail and why many “good news” stories about an organization don’t find traction.

Years ago I came up with a simple formula that captures how we remember actions and words. It is the same technique used by good journalists who grab you with a snappy story. The formula is the “A.C.E. model” of communication.

We recall communication far deeper and longer when it involves Action, Conflict or sharp Contrast, and Emotion. “Action” means something significantly different from the norm–something unique, new, surprising. “Conflict/Contrast” involves a very sharp departure from the status quo. Conflict especially grabs our attention because it presents a possible threat to our safety, security, and self-image. Conflict quickly draws an emotional response triggered by the brain’s amygdala–our self-preservation centre that deals with fear. Contrast in the A.C.E. formula requires similar drama. It presents the unexpected, a departure from the norm, a giant shift in how we’ve always seen the world. Examples include saving others, dramatically exceeding levels of existing performance, and outstanding performance.

The “Emotion” part of the A.C.E. formula is the most critical. If we don’t feel it, we won’t aborb and recall the action or words. Emotional impact can include humor, fear, anger, and a sense of being called to take action.

When combined, the elements of the A.C.E. formula strike deep into our conscious and unconscious. When repeated several times, the A.C.E. approach can in fact change not only behavior but our attitudes.