What is communication?
Communication — defined as a message being sent and received. Too often, we think about communication as a one way missive being fired off..
Want to communicate something? Send an email or write a memo and the job done.
The problem with this approach is that we have no way of knowing whether the message has been received, let alone understood. Perhaps that is fine in situations where the intent is purely do discharge responsibility; “.. well, we did write to you and tell you x,y.z..,” although arguably it is often a fail in those situations as well.
But, in situations where what you are saying matters, where you want people to hear the message, to understand the message, to change what they are doing as a result of your message. Well then, in those situations, it really is important knowing whether a message has been received and understood.
Communication in the workplace
Now of course, in day to day life, there are many circumstances when sending an email or a memo or a letter, is the most efficient way of getting a message across in the first instance (although, again, I would argue that there is more that they could do to make sure the message has been received AND understood).
But in the workplace it is much easier.
We know that the employees want to know about big picture strategy from the big boss. But that they want to know the day to day impact of that strategy on them from their immediate (and hopefully trusted) manager. There is plenty of research to support this.
We also know that receiving the message from email is not predictable. A positively written email can be perceived as neutral and a neutrally received email can be perceived as negative.
There’s one clincher around all this.. Even if you able to draft a beautifully written email that captures perfectly the essence of what you are trying to say (instead of drafting it as you take a phone call, and try and do your monthly board report). Even if it sent from the person that is appropriate to the message (i.e. — the big boss for big news and the manager for impact on the person)..
Even if all these things are in place.
The one thing you cannot control is the context, situation and mood of when the person opens and reads the email.
And we know that this context is a lens that can distort or enhance everything. Imagine the person who opens an email from you talking about an important change just after they’ve had a fight with their partner on the phone. Despite your beautiful drafting, the message won’t be received in the same light. And you have absolutely no control over when someone opens and reads emails or memos. So there is no way of mitigating for this..
So what’s the simple technique?
But there is a way that we can deliver the message as it was intended, that we can check that the message has been received and we can control for context (to a degree)..
What is this technique you ask?
Next time you have a message to deliver, instead of drafting a memo or email. Think. Think how can I deliver this message face to face? How can I be sure that the person has heard and understood? How can I check for where they are at emotionally, energy wise and other.
It’s easy. Face to face. Having a conversation..
Now of course, this is not going to work for every message. Nor, would that be appropriate.
But for the messages that count, for where you want to be sure that people hear, understand and change. Then taking the time to talk together. Well, that can make all the difference.