On the first day of the semester, the teacher steps in the door and walks to the front of the class. He or she hands out the syllabus and goes through it with the student. Do this, this, this and this. Don’t do that, that, that or that. The students all nod, the teacher says, ‘alright then.’ Everyone leaves and within weeks the teacher is upset that the students aren’t meeting expectations, and the students are distraught because they’re doing what they thought they should be doing and aren’t getting rewarded.
A new hire comes on to the job. He or she thinks they have a grasp on what they’re supposed to do based on the job description for the post. The boss meets with the new employee, but he or she is distracted because there are six other projects going on. Haphazardly, he or she runs through a loose set of expectations. The new hire gets to work, and two months later the boss is angry because the employee isn’t doing well and the employee is bitter and demotivated because they felt like they were working hard.
Marketing campaigns go awry. Political messages miss the mark. Conferences are botched. Meetings are a waste of time. Projects get you nowhere.
The culprit? With regularity, it’s failed communication. We are all a piece of the broader fabric of society. Dependent upon one another, we rely on communication to keep the various parts and pieces fitting together smoothly. To keep the water flowing through your faucet, your medication available, your kids in school and your roads paved, endless webs of communication are constructed to facilitate the complex coordination necessary to keep us chugging along day in and day out.
Communication requires strategy. Yet strategy is rarely applied to communication. This is a paradox, given that every single field requires effective communication for success. The scientist must share his or her findings with peers and colleagues. The medical doctor must discuss tough, complex issues with the patient. No one field exists in a bubble. While not everyone has time for a complex strategy, there are approaches to help gain clarity and improve results. Taking the time upfront to run through a communication strategy can save you a lot of time later. Here are some ways you can do that:
1. Identify your motive for communicating.
Why are you trying to get some piece of information out there? Do you hope to sway someone’s opinion, get them to buy a product, clear up a misunderstanding or educate them on a topic? The motive matters.
2. Determine what it is that you are attempting to convey.
If you don’t have clarity on the subject at hand, rest assured no one else will either. Depending on the situation, this may mean beefing up by doing lots of research. Or it could simply be a matter of doing introspection and reflection. Once you understand your motive for communicating, make sure you have perfect clarity as to exactly what you’re trying to get across.
3. Understand the person or audience with whom you are communicating.
Don’t belabor under the false assumption that you can just assume what your audience, or the other person, is thinking. You can’t. Life is already chalk full of false narratives we tell ourselves as to ‘why he does that’ or ‘why they think this way.’ You only know if you ask, listen or research. This is of critical importance for step 4.
4. Craft your message accordingly.
You know why you want to convey something, what that something is and to whom it is going. But how exactly are you going to couch that message? The way you think of it to yourself, or the way you would want someone to communicate it to you, isn’t the same way others would prefer. Because you did your homework, you can assess how much the other party knows, what their biases may be, where their gaps in information are and where they might be emotionally triggered. You can take this into consideration in the wording and shaping of your message.
5. Select the right medium for delivery.
It’s funny, but this is usually the first thing people try to determine when it really should be one of the last. Just being on social media won’t make any difference if you don’t have any clarity in steps 1 – 4. Having a face-to-face won’t necessarily solve anything if you, again, don’t have clarity in steps 1 – 4. Wait until you’ve got it straight. A quick note – if you’re working on a campaign and sending a message out on different medium you will, in this case, need to tweak the messages to the platform.
6. Measure or reflect upon your results.
Take stock of your success so you can improve for the future. Where did you do well? Where did things break down? No one is perfect, particularly when it comes to communication. Yet we can all strive to do better.