“The problem in life is that we keep missing each other.” In hindsight, my college literature professor’s words—spoken well before social media, smart phones, text messages, email, the internet, and cell phones—were not only relevant at the time, but also prophetic. The irony of having vast means for rapid communication is that communication has become more vapid and elusive. We still keep missing each other.
The ability to communicate frequently through multiple channels is no guarantee of effectiveness. Let’s review the best ways to get an intended message to the targeted recipient.
1. Listen first.
Take time to investigate your audience. Learn their interests and preferred means of communication. Find out to which type of message and tone your intended target is receptive. This may be a trial and error exercise. Pay close attention to responses and response rates so that you are always perfecting your delivery.
2. Speak to be understood.
If your message includes language specific to a topic or industry, don’t assume familiarity on the part of your audience. You may have to define certain buzz words or acronyms. Whether your audience is an entire organization, a small group of coworkers, or one person, speak in the audience’s preferred vernacular. This is not to suggest becoming a chameleon or adopting a different speech pattern. The idea is to be as clear as possible, especially if the subject is very technical.
3. Define urgency.
If your message is urgent, say so and get right to the point; however, if every message you send is urgent, none will be perceived as such. An urgent item on your task list might not even be on your recipient’s radar. Always be empathetic to your recipients’ priorities. If you know the topic is a priority for you but not necessarily for the recipient, say so. Be courteous (see #4). Let the recipient know whether you expect a response and if so, provide a deadline.
4. Communicate clearly, concisely, completely, correctly, and courteously.
Employ my 5 Cs of effective communication. Your message should be clear. State the purpose at the outset. Keep the message concise. Given the information overload, only concise messages get the most attention. If your message is long, break it into sub-categories for easier digestion.
Don’t be hasty. It is easy to assume the recipient is on the same page as you, will not judge you or your message by its sloppy delivery, or will not be offended by your lack of empathy. Assumptions like these are dangerous. Instead, assume your recipient is not aware of what is on your mind or your calendar and indicate in your first sentence or subject line the nature of your communication. Gain and maintain credibility by fact checking and grammar checking your message before sending it.
Finally, always be polite. It is easier to catch flies with honey than with vinegar.
5. Follow up.
If you are delivering your message in person, you have the benefit of receiving instant feedback and the ability to read feedback in your audience’s body language. If your message is indirect and you get no response, do not take offense to the sound of crickets. Take action instead. If you sent an email, follow up with a phone call, or vice versa. If you still get no response, take the hint and move on.
The most effective messengers are credible because they take time to develop a relationship with their audiences. Building rapport has more to do with how you, the sender, respond to your audience, the receiver.