“You cannot not communicate.” When my professor said this during a masters-level communication course, I first got hung up on the improper grammar usage with an obvious double negative. It wasn’t until I reflected on the statement a little later that I realized how profound this concept really is. Everything, yes everything, we do and say (or don’t do and don’t say) communicates something. Appreciating this basic concept can help leaders understand why communication is critical to an organization’s success.
Effective communication begins with the audience. Who are they? What are their needs and interests? How do you connect with them? Why should they care about what you’re communicating or take the action you’re suggesting? Answering these questions will help ensure your focus is aimed in the right direction.
Effective communication should have a clear purpose. Have you ever ended a phone call or read an e-mail wondering what the purpose was? The communicator should have wondered the same thing before initiating the call or sending the e-mail. Determining a desired effect prior to communicating will help ensure effective communication. Are you trying to inform or influence? What is the one thing you want the audience to learn, understand, appreciate, or do? What would success look like after the communication? Answering these questions will help ensure your communication has a well-defined purpose.
Some secrets to success:
1. Be Clear: Be upfront about what you want your audience to do or know. Everyone’s busy trying to swim through the river of excess communication we have in the information age. Grab your audience’s attention with a proactive subject and get to the point within the first sentence or two, or your audience will move on to something else. In the military, we provide our chain of command with the BLUF or bottom-line, up-front. This is 3-5 sentences that summarizes the most-critical information along with any action required.
2. Be Concise: Journalists learn the inverted pyramid method of writing, which is essentially leading with the most-important information and providing as much supporting information as needed to tell a complete story. Our senses are easily overwhelmed by too much information or too many details. Simplify the main points, including any specific action requested, and then provide resources for the audience to get additional information, if desired.
3. Care about your audience: Everyone listens to WIIFM radio, otherwise known as “What’s in it for me?” If you don’t answer that question, you’re broadcasting on the wrong frequency and might as well be sending random signals into space. This gets us back to where we began. It all begins with your audience. Communicate in a way that meets their needs on a channel where they are. We often communicate using our own preferred method (e-mail, phone, face-to-face). This may work, if your audience has the same preference, but chances are good they have other preferences. How do we know what method our audience prefers? We can ask them, if possible, or we can review their communication to see what channels they use to communicate. We can also use multiple channels to broadcast similar messages across several different media. There’s a reason advertisers use television, radio, web, etc., and we can learn the same lesson for our own communication.
Assuming my professor was correct about the ubiquitous nature of communication, we owe it to those with whom we communicate to be clear, concise, and caring – even if our grammar is less than perfect.
A fact sheet I use for teaching this concept is located here: https://drplexico.wordpress.com/communicate-with-a-purpose/. I chose not to copyright this fact sheet, so feel free to copy and share to improve your own organization’s communication.
Alvin Plexico, Ph.D. is a member of the online faculty of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.