How often have you told someone something, only to find, some time later, that they understood something different, or nothing at all?
We all do it, we confuse transmission for communication.
Whether we write it, especially in e-mail, or say it, there can be a huge difference between what we intend, what we say, what is heard and what is understood – and that is in one to one interaction. When it becomes one to many the risk of mis-understanding is even greater.
Whether we intend to communicate with an individual, a team or a wider audience marketing principles apply.
1 – Know your status: The greater the level of trust, permission, alignment, credibility or authority you have with them, the less the principles below need to be used (they still need to be used, just less rigorously.)
With a close friend/colleague, with whom you are completely aligned and credible, they will find it easy to understand the most casual of communications. We see this sometimes when a team are so connected with one another that they develop their own kind of language. This is also extremely alienating for others and new recruits to the team, so although this is a sign of a well bonded team it also has it’s dangers.
If you have a tough message to communicate and insufficient credibility with the audience – you will need to get the credibility first. Perhaps through an introduction by someone who does have the credibility or perhaps through a subtle demonstration of your value.
2 – Know your audience: The emotional and cultural status of the audience will make a huge difference to what they can take on board and the best way to communicate with them. If they are stressed, the only message they want to hear is the one that de-stresses them and they will ONLY accept messages that fit with their world view of what will de-stress them. Anything else will simply create more stress.
For example, a culturally “short-term profit” focussed management team of a struggling business, will find it very hard to accept anything other than simplistic quick fixes to their business. Even if those short term fixes are the cause of the boom/bust cycle they are in.
To change the cycle you will need to find a fix that fits with their world view first, of course once they are no longer stressed, they may not be interested in fixes of any sort…
3 – Choose your media: We are spoilt for choice in terms of media, but just because a channel is obvious and easy for you, does not make it the most effective. Unless your audience is terrified of you, do not imagine very many of them will read an e-mail sent to more than a very targeted audience. If they are terrified of you, do not imagine that they will interpret the message as intended.
The danger of e-mail is that it is so easy to broadcast and so difficult to communicate. Broadly speaking the tighter and more transparent the recipient list the better.
One to one, face to face offers the least risk of confusion – although confusion always remains possible if others of these principles are not followed. Face to face can also expensive and impractical – we are always in the wrong place for somebody. Phone or video call are a good substitute and the further we are from someone the more care we need to take with the rest of these principles. Broadly speaking the less time and effort you are investing in individual, face to face communication, the more you need to invest in everything else. For example – a reasonably well produced video will get far, far better results than an e-mail when communicating to 50 people. You will still need credibility with your audience to get them to watch it.
4 – Articulate your message: The reason TED talks and Apple Keynotes are so very good is that, in both cases, enormous care is taken in perfecting the message and practicing the articulation of it. If you need to write an important e-mail and you are not a great writer, get help! Use a copy writer, the difference between the work of a professional copy writer and the norm is as big as the gap between a pro-athlete and the rest of us. Just because you can ride a bike does not mean you can or should enter the Tour de France.
Even if you are writing a one to one e-mail, IM, text, tweet or Facebook update, take care to read before sending – and read from the point of view of the reader. Will they understand it without reading your mind? Generally speaking the fewer words the better, cut out
any words that are unnecessary unnecessary words.
5 – Listen: Before you start communicating listen to your audience, what is the language they use, what are their hot topics and their concerns. A little like entering an internet forum, if you don’t know the context you run the risk of being flamed. Ask for direct feedback in your communication and listen carefully for indirect feedback, it is often the most valuable sort. Never take feedback personally – if you do you will miss the value of it. Feedback, no matter how critical, just helps you to understand where others are in relation to you. Make the most of it.
6 – Do it again: Never imagine that communicating something complex once to even a small audience will be enough. Marketing research shows that people need to see a message at least seven times before it sinks in – and that is only if it is relevant to them.
In conclusion – if you want a team to communicate well, with each other and outside, they must be aligned (without being exclusive) and they must take the time and care to communicate well, with the right media and listen to their audience.
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