This weekend I was reading an article in the Fall Harvard Business Review OnPoint magazine (How to Get Your Message Across edition) called “Five Ways to Sharpen Your Communication Skills” by John Baldoni. The article was interesting, but what was more interesting was the comment they selected to share in the Reader Comment section after the article.
John shares these five tips:
- Know the fundamentals (Understand the written and spoken word.)
- Think clearly about what you will say (Don’t use PowerPoint as short-hand for thinking)
- Prepare for meetings (Take the time to think about what to say before you say it.)
- Engage in discussion (Debate. Hear all viewpoints. Don’t engage in group think.)
- Listen to others (Discussion is meaningless if no one is listening. “Measure what you treasure.”)
Sounds like everything we learned in kindergarten, right? Still many marketing, public relations and communications pros struggle with these basic elements when it comes to communicating with customers, stakeholders and other employees.
“One of my favorite quotes on the subject of communication is attributed to George Bernard Shaw, ‘The problem with communication… is the illusion that it has been accomplished.’
To Baldoni’s final point about the need to measure and demonstrate effective communication, we as leaders in our organizations miss this point time and again. How do we know if we’ve accomplished our intended communication goals (and realistically, are we even setting communication goals)?
Where formal measures are lacking, the gut-level measure of trust kicks in. A team, organization, business unit or organization leader who appears to have the trust of their team is most likely a leader who demonstrates a commitment to effective communication. Look to the trusted leaders within an organization and you’ll often see demonstrated the communication skills that work within that organization.”
I’d like to focus on the measurement part of the article and comment. As smart communications pros, we can and absolutely should measure if our message is being communicated properly, but more importantly we should measure if it is being understood.
Five Quick Steps to Make Sure Your Message is Being Understood
- Analyze Current Data (Collected data about market segments, stakeholders, employees, etc.)
- Benchmark Current Levels of Message Understanding
- Develop a Plan that includes an Outtake Objective (For the message you’d like to be understood)
- Implement the Plan (Be sure it includes measurement. Note: This slide deck is for social media measurement, but the principles can be used for traditional communications as well.)
- Test to Make Sure The Outtake Objective Was Achieved (or Not)
If this seems too simple, then I’ve done my job here. The point is we tend to overly complicate what is a basic process that works. Where it does get complicated, of course, is when people come into the equation. Corporate politics always have a tricky way of rearing their ugly head, don’t they?
Some additional challenges include not understanding customers enough to know if they fall into the “I’ve tuned you out” category or the “I like what you have to say, it’s relevant to me” category. This is where step one is crucial.
There is also often a communication failure internally. Communicators and management fail to honestly try to understand how employees feel about their position within the organization. Sure, employees are given options to receive internal communications, but are you sure it’s what they need to hear? Are they comfortable and secure enough to tell you the truth?
Is there a communication gap between organizations and the stakeholders that can help spread our messages to others? Benchmarking can help you to understand if there is and what the plan needs to include to close the gap.
What would you offer when it comes to understanding if messaging is being understood? What has worked for your organization? What examples (successes and failures!) would you share?