HOW You Communicate Is Often More Important Than WHAT You Communicate.

We live with communication devices practically attached to our thumbs and yet in many ways communication has never been more difficult. Often the busyness and pressure of life can cause us to assume we are communicating if we send off a quick email or text. An unfortunate reality of 21st Century life is that it is easy to send of a tweet or post something on FaceBook without thinking through the possible implications of what we have communicated in what is essentially a public forum. In anger or in haste it is easy to hide behind the relative safety of just clicking send.

Every professional organisation needs a communication policy. No organisation can function effectively without healthy open communication. Unfortunately, we cannot leave it to the common sense of individuals because, as is often said, the problem with common sense is that it is not that common.


A frustrated woman sitting reading an email communication on her laptop. What is effective communication?

Communication is not just sending a message – by whatever means (spoken, written, delivered, posted, texted, etc).

Good communication covers the whole process of: sending a message -> gaining attention -> receiving the message -> understanding the message -> and acting appropriately to the message.

Who is responsible for effective communication?

The person trying to communicate is responsible. Obviously the hearer/receiver of communication shares some responsibility but the primary responsibility is on the initiator of the communication. Presumably they want a positive response to their communication, and so it is in their interest to ensure that their message is heard in such a way that the hearer can understand and respond meaningfully.

A few things to note about effective communication:

  • Not every communication method works well in every situation – E.g. if you want to let everyone know about a high priority emergency meeting you do not use email. If you need to know recipients have heard your message it is best to communicate by phone or at least text message.
  • Choose the appropriate method of communication for your purpose – E.g. if you wish to send a lot of detail that you want people to read to prepare for a future meeting or discussion then email is best (with a verbal reminder especially for those people who prefer verbal communication and therefore rarely read emails).
  • You need to know your audience in order to communicate well with them – E.g. you can communicate using in-jokes and assumptions about people’s response times when you are part of a small tight team. This becomes more difficult in larger looser teams.
  • What you should NEVER communicate by email, text, Facebook, Twitter: – Personal criticism, matters that should remain private, discussions about a third party, anything you may regret later (because it is so easily reproduced and sent to unauthorized third parties), unconfirmed facts, accusations, etc.
  • What you MUST communicate Face2FaceOne-on-One – personal challenge, correction, bad news involving that person. To a group – anything that threatens organisational security, anything that should be discussed.  Motivational encouragement is best delivered F2F and praise to individuals or a group is best done here.
  • Acceptable ‘on the run’ communication – Good news, quick heads up about a previous conversation, emergencies (though what constitutes an emergency will often be disputed).
  • Unacceptable ‘on the run’ communication – Anything that requires a thought out decision. The larger the organisation, the less you can communicate this way. E.g. ‘Can I have next Friday off?’ requires a written application in larger organisations because there are so many possible implications to think through.

In an age of so many communication possibilities, organisations need a communication policy which not only focuses on WHAT is communicated but also on HOW messages are best communicated as well.

What insights have you to add to this discussion?


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