I often think that communication has been the biggest cause of war, misery and unhappiness in this world. Whether it’s not enough communication, poorly done, badly timed or intentional misinformation, the effect of communication on our daily lives is becoming ever more important. In the work place, most businesses are still missing the mark. Some are better than others, but given the complex make-up of the modern workforce, with different ages, background, ethnicity and expectations, we all need to do better. I’ve been doing some reading recently, and thought I’d share my findings.
Keep you message clear & simple: The biggest mistake in internal communications is the way we deliver the message. Corporate templates, stuffy wording, signed off by HR, Compliance, Legal, fully de-risked and sanitised, by the time your audience receive your message, it may be so diluted that they can longer discern what you were trying to say. Likewise, too much padding, flowery language and unnecessary detail will distract the viewer and cloud the message. Even with a sensitive message, it still needs to be crystal clear for everyone to understand and process the message. The medium through which you deliver the message counts, too. A cluttered inbox may well subsume an important message, so if it’s really important, think about the way you choose to communicate it. We’re trying 60 second new round-ups sent as a video clip to keep us disciplined in the number and brevity of our messages. If people want more details, they will ask!
We all have choices: In the workplace, when a serious or complex message is delivered, many people will assume that there is no room for questions, discussion or negotiation. Whether you are a reflector, or you act on impulse, as you process the message, and determine how it impacts you & your world, you then form a view in relation to the message. When a message is delivered in an excessively directive style, we turn off our audience, and reduce their receptiveness to the message. People almost always have a choice – accept the message or reject it. Reminding people of this can help them feel less “backed into a corner”, and more likely to digest your message in it’s entirety. Not all messages can be positive, but there’s usually an upside on most things, so let them see that upside by providing choice, and respect the different ways in which people process new information.
The What, How & Why: The way in which you deliver a message is critical. In a typical sales pitch, you would express the problem, the solution, then the benefit. If you talked firstly about the solution or benefits, many people might not link it to their problem and would switch off. In the same way, when we have a message to deliver, we should first articulate WHAT we are about to address (for example, “we have seen a significant decline in sales for Product X”.) Next we talk about the HOW (for example, “in order to improve Sales of Product X, we are introducing a new incentive programme. For every new sale of Product X, the team will receive a cash payment, and for every customer referral, the payment is doubled.”) Finally, talk about the WHY (for example (“This will help us achieve our sales target and help us build up more customer references.”)
Walk in their shoes (not everyone will like what you’re saying!): Not all messages are positive, and many messages will have detractors who either don’t want to hear the message, or disagree with the message. If you know this is a likely outcome, you can prepare in advance. Present the detractor argument in positive language, show where your message and their view overlaps. Repeat their message, then focus on the WHY. This approach still works if you receive a negative response after you’ve delivered a message. By embracing, rather than dismissing a detractor’s view, you’ve got more chance of winning them over (and being seen in a positive light by others involved.)
Would your granny get it?: I have previously highlighted my three rules of communication, but if there’s one that is worth repeating, it’s the “would granny get it” rule. My granny was a simple Northern woman who didn’t like too much fuss, and had no time for long-winded tales. If you wanted to deliver a message to my granny, you needed to use as few words as possible, and make sure you didn’t use any jargon. She was an intelligent woman, but she liked to be absolutely clear on what you were saying and what you wanted from her. I really try and stick to this rule, and sometimes catch myself using more words than necessary, so I have to reign in my “story-telling” urges.
On reflection, these tips not only work when communicating with colleagues, but they work very well with clients and customers, too. In fact, they may well even be helpful when dealing with friends and family. So next time you have an important piece of information to share, take a minute to think on these 5 tips to ensure it’s well communicated and understood.