When I was growing up, my father used to tell me to, “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” It was a frequent lesson in our household, underscoring the importance of good communication under any circumstance.
When asked about key attributes of great leaders, being effective communicators always tops the list. Likewise relevant communication is the core of smart and profitable organizations. In fact, in academic settings, in sports, at home, or just out for a great time, communicating effectively is critical.
Human beings are social animals and as such civilization is built on our ability to communicate with each other. Other animals have created sophisticated societies (think about those dolphins!) that rely on communicating with each other.
While communication is the foundation of our world, nonetheless it is always a challenge to get it right. Most corporate, nonprofit and governmental leaders will say that their biggest obstacle is communication. Whether a company is announcing a merger, a sale, a new transition plan, an expansion of the target audience, or a closure, how the message is sent – and received – is what matters most.
It’s Not What You Say – It’s What is Heard
Even the savviest communicators can run into problems when they think that the point they are making is crystal clear and yet it is misconstrued. In most instances this is not significant. But when the stakes are high, there is great responsibility on the part of the communicator to ensure that the message is sent and understood as intended.
This lesson is especially obvious in today’s panicked global environment. The government, corporate decision makers, and even religious leaders are working around the clock to calm fears and institute practices to establish safe protocols. As they strive to bring the pandemic to an end, it grows more obvious with every televised appearance, tweet, news flash, and print articles and quotes that good communication is truly essential.
When you are speaking with your employees, clients, vendors, colleagues and friends, there are several things you can do to ensure that your well-intended message is well-received and well-understood.
- Important messages should not be sent by email except as a last resort. Email is a great platform for follow-up messages, providing directions and guidelines regarding what can be expected going forward. But a generic email sent to a large group creates the perfect opportunity for others to misinterpret your words or repeat them inaccurately. Email should not be the choice for the first announcement of major news.
- Important messages should be sent in a timely fashion. When announcements or news is “held back” the rumor mill fills in the blanks – often with inaccurate and misleading details. It is human nature to close the gap between what is known and what is not known. Avoid having others spin your story by sharing all available details as quickly as is prudently possible.
- Lastly, above all else, important messages should be delivered with honesty and transparency. There is nothing worse than losing your credibility by leaving out key details, saying what you think others want to hear, or lying. Resorting to these types of delaying tactics is a poor decision. You cannot fool everyone for very long anyway. Eventually the truth comes out, so always start there. When you communicate from strength, with a frank and open approach and deep empathy for your listeners, your communications will be successful and you are much more likely to accomplish your objectives.