Few human endeavors are as challenging as human communication. The process starts in our brain with our thoughts concerning what we wish to communicate. We then translate those thoughts into words we believe convey the exact meaning we intend. We transmit our message verbally or in writing, and when in person, it is, unconsciously in most cases, accompanied by our tone of voice and facial expression.
The message receiver hears voice tone and sees facial expression instantly –often imagining both if the communication is written or not delivered in person – and forms an opinion concerning the message before bothering to re-translate our actual words into the meaning they attach to them. (See Albert Mehrabian for more insight into this process)
Is it any wonder miss-communication occurs so often?
Unfortunately, almost everything a manager does involves communicating a message to someone, in some form. Moreover, the more important the matter being communicated, the greater the potential consequences if a miss-communication occurs. While we can do little to alter the mental and physiological elements of the process itself, the best managers pay close attention to two critical elements of their communication efforts they can control: the intended message and its reinforcement.
First, the best managers – no mater how glib and articulate they may be — never take their communication skills for granted. They know how difficult the effective communication of a message can be and usually have a raft of stories to tell about what they learned from their own past communication foul ups. Thus, when the mater to be communicated is truly important, they rehearse in advance and strive for CONCISENESS and PRECISION in the language they choose.
A book I have recommended elsewhere — “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath offers many useful suggestions concerning the qualities of messages that remain with their intended audiences. Or pay close attention to the work of the best political consultants whose ability to craft a compelling message for their candidate can make the difference in a successful campaign.
Second, the best managers always follow-up important communications with repeated efforts to convey the essence of the same message in various forms. They develop the ability to ask questions designed to ascertain the message others believe they have received from them and thus allow them to make subtle shifts in emphasis to clarify any confusion.
If all of this sounds like hard work, it is. But since managers exert their influence on most matters via their written and oral exchanges up and down their organizations, when it really matters, the effort required to achieve precision and sufficient repetition to insure clarity and a common understanding is well worth it.