Advanced Policy Interpretation: Hidden Messages

As the person or organization behind the policy, the lens of your interpretation is from the back, where you’re more concerned about content than style.

When you switch the lens to the front—from the viewpoint of someone subject to the policy—it becomes much clearer.

Take the following example:

All employees must always check in at the front desk upon arrival.

The policy written concisely would be simply:

Employees check in at the front desk upon arrival.

So why the extra words? Aside from being superfluous, they are laden with hidden messages:

  • “all”

The word all is implied; the statement without it would mean the same. Its deliberate inclusion here reveals an underlying sentiment. It says, “We’re not interested in individual circumstances. Don’t even try to be an exception!”

  • “must”

The word must is overkill; it’s a glove slapping your face. Its inclusion here says, “Yes, this is mandatory. We don’t like it when you don’t follow the rules!”

  • “always”

The word always is another loaded word. Again, the policy would be clear without it. Its inclusion here means, “You should remember this on your own; we’re tired of reminding you!”

All three words together shout, “We’re not flexible,” and “You’d better listen to us!”

Unless that’s the message that you truly want to send, it would be better to rewrite the policy statement to sound less officious.


More Policy Writing Tips

For more information

You’ll find information on writing titles for policy instruments and many related topics in Respectful Policies and Directives, available at any bookstore.

Perfect offers workshops that help you organize your policy instruments. Contact us for details.