How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
What makes communication good, as opposed to bad or ineffective? If we can identify key characteristics of good communication then these can be used to design both the message and the delivery.
A good message is complete, saying everything that it should say.
The first test of a communication is of validity, that it says everything that it intends to say and does not say things that are not needed or which interfere with the main message.
When forming a message, it is easy to get trapped by early parts of the message as the communicator spends too much time on trying to ensure that this is communicated well that there is insufficient time or space left for the rest of the message. The result is something that is lop-sided and incomplete.
A complete message should also get through to the complete audience. This is often easy to test, at the very least by asking everyone if they have heard the message.
A good message is clear and unambiguously understood by all its target audience.
To be remembered, the message should be short. Long messages, even if they are well-presented tend to be forgotten. Brevity includes a limited number of key points, which, for the best chance of being remembered, should be three or less.
A good message uses simple language that everyone can understand. It uses familiar language rather than jargon, with shorter sentences and a summary of key points at the end.
The ultimate test of a message is that it is understood by everyone. This again can be tested by asking a sample of people to paraphrase what they have understood in the message.
A good message is aligned with company strategy and with other messages.
The strategy and consequent plans for the company provide the overall intent and specific action. Messages should support and be aligned with both strategy and action. Much of the purpose of strategy is to get things done that makes the company successful. This should be clearly communicated so everyone knows at least the guiding compass direction.
The actions to implement strategy appears in plans and operational tactics (which of course should also align with strategy). As well as guiding intent, messages are needed to direct everyday action. With complete and clear messages, people know what to do.
Finally, messages should align with people, their beliefs, values and personal purpose. They should feel that what they are being told is right. When people not only accept, but agree and personally align with a message, then they will work hard to comply with it.
Communication is not just top-down, but bi-directional, with both speaking and listening by all people, at all levels.
The most important part of communication is listening, though sadly too little of this happens. Listening not only ensures understanding, it also respects and affirms the speaker, telling them they are important and their messages are worthy.
Questions may be used for clarification and understanding. They may also be used to challenge and seek to change the thinking of the other party.
A message is not just about understanding, it means accepting it so that the listener is changed in some way. In business communications, if senior managers listen and understand what people say to them, they should also change what they think and hence what they plan, say and do.