What It Means
Over the past three weeks, you have learned how to enhance your communication skills in face-to-face interactions. Your interpersonal exchanges are perfect places for demonstrating your executive presence, your sense of empathy, and your listening skills. Now, it is time to broaden your audience. It is time to apply your communicative prowess in a group setting.
Unless you work by yourself, you interact with a team of colleagues all the time. These are your closest associates, the people you turn to most frequently for guidance. And while you have similar job functions and work toward the same goals, communicating with your team members is not always easy. You have to make your messages understandable to everyone at the same time, and each of your teammates has their own particular communicative style.
In this lecture, you will learn about what makes team communication so unique. We will examine how to tailor your communications to groups of people, particularly in meetings. We will also explore how to address conflict when it arises among your team.
Why It Matters
- Your team can provide candid insights you would not find anywhere else in your organization.
- Without trust in one another, your team can never truly be aligned and effective.
- The right communicative medium can ensure your teammates listen and develop
“Without trust, we don’t truly collaborate; we merely coordinate or, at best, cooperate. It is trust that transforms a group of people into a team.”
What Makes a Team Unique?
Let us assume you work for a large corporation with hundreds of employees. You do not all work in the same building, and you do not talk to every single person in the company; you have not even met the vast majority of them. You have a rough idea of what different departments in the company do, but you do not know their exact work processes and functions. Your workday revolves around your interactions with a much smaller group of people. Within this group, you know exactly what everyone’s jobs are, what their schedules look like, what their personalities are, and what they aspire to do. This is your team, the people who are most committed to your success.
How you communicate with your team will be fundamentally different from how you communicate with the whole company. For one, you have more flexibility in your means of delivery. You are not forced to hold a massive town hall or a webinar. You can deliver your message in an informal meeting or just standing together in your hallway. It is also a lot easier to schedule a team huddle than a big presentation. In fact, you can poll your teammates to determine what they feel the best means of delivery is! For another, team communication requires you to be completely open. You already know you should be forthright and honest when communicating with people. But when you host a webinar, listeners cannot always read your body language. If you are giving a speech in a large room, the people seated in the front row will have a very different experience from those people sitting all the way in the back. It is easy for you to get away with not being completely authentic. When you are meeting with your team, however, you have nothing to hide behind.
To achieve the best results, your teammates have to trust you, regardless of whether you are the leader or not. The good news is that you have many opportunities to build that trust. When you frequently communicate with your group, your colleagues know what to expect of you. You demonstrate that you are reliable and open about everything. Subsequently, your teammates become emotionally invested in having positive interactions with you. They want to help you succeed because that means they succeed, too. The bad news is that effective team communication is fraught with hurdles. Falling victim to one of these obstacles can be devastating for your entire group, and can derail the team from fulfilling its mission.
A Clash of Personalities
In JWI 510: Leadership in the 21st Century, you took the DiSC assessment. You learned what your personal communicative style is and how that affects your leadership prowess. Remember that, even on a close-knit team, not everyone will have the same communicative style. If you do not account for those styles, team dynamics can become frayed quickly. Imagine you are in a meeting with your team. If you identify most closely with Dominance in your DiSC results, you will speak bluntly and confidently. But if you identify more with Conscientiousness, you may not talk as much during meetings because you do not want to say something wrong. Not accounting for these differences can lead to discussions being dominated by one or two voices. That will never result in a comprehensive plan that is wholeheartedly supported by all members of the team.
Even if you and your teammates do share the same communicative style, you will disagree about a number of issues. That is perfectly normal. In fact, you should never feel as if conflict is necessarily bad for your team. But because your team is significantly smaller than your organization, disagreements and interpersonal tensions can become amplified very quickly. Team members are constantly working with each other, and if personality conflicts are left unchecked, two negative consequences will emerge. First, the rest of the team may feel forced to “take sides” between the conflicting members, which destroys any chance of group cohesion. Second, if there is animosity among team members, you cannot expect them to be emotionally invested in what they are doing. The team’s workflow and productivity will suffer and, when that happens, nobody wins.
Even if you can overcome personal issues and strains, motivating everyone in the group to actually contribute is another challenge. You have probably been part of a group project where it seems only one or two people actually do the work. Everyone else seems content to do nothing, but they will still take credit for the final product. Those people contribute to what is commonly known as the “free-rider problem.” If everyone can get credit for reaching a goal, certain team members may not make any effort to help reach it. Allowing this to happen is a surefire way to spark resentment from your most productive team members.
None of this is to say that you cannot trust your team members, or that there will always be animosity among them. You can keep everyone focused, collaborative, and productive if you can engage them. The best way to achieve this is to communicate what your expectations are of them. Fortunately, there are several ways to do this.
Meetings that Make a Difference
Author Jeff Haden once wrote that most meetings are “a complete waste of money. And time. And energy. And opportunities to accomplish great things instead.”1 That is an extreme statement, but his sentiments ring true for many leaders. In fact, according to a poll from the University of North Carolina, roughly three out of every four senior managers surveyed said they thought meetings were unproductive and inefficient.2 Meetings are designed to keep your team aligned and focused on its goals; they are some of your most powerful means of formal team communication. Too often, we let them get derailed by tangents or muddled in unimportant information. The key to a good and productive meeting is that everything about it must be purposeful. Here are some ways to keep your meetings purposeful:
- Only meet if you need to. Look over your agenda. Is there anything on your list that cannot just go in an email? The meeting needs to provide information or solicit feedback that you could not obtain anywhere else. You do not have to drag people into a conference room if you can just as easily walk by their desks and talk with them. And you definitely should not have a team meeting if only one person will be talking. A meeting is totally pointless if attendees do not have to be there.
Have a complete agenda. Before the meeting even begins, each attendee should know exactly what will be accomplished and how it will be accomplished. Failing to do so invites people to meander verbally and bring up irrelevant discussion topics. Communications scholar Neal Hartman also suggests that any vague meeting topics, such as “status updates,” will not be a good use of anyone’s time.3
- Stick to the script. Once the meeting starts, you must adhere to your agenda and keep everyone focused. If the meeting has a fixed time limit, you do not have the time to spontaneously add new topics. Find a way to remove distractions from the room. If the meeting is going to be long, schedule short breaks every so often. If some attendees are distracted by something on their phones or computers, you can ask attendees to put away these items – but only do this if you absolutely have to. Remember, if only one person is talking the entire time, then nobody else needs to be there. You will not get every brain in the game if only one brain is working. You asked each person there to attend for a reason. Ask for their feedback and comments as much as possible.
- Keep your attendees aligned. The meeting cannot end until you have established what everyone’s duties are. You never want to walk out thinking to yourself, “Now what?” First of all, set a date and time for your next meeting. This gives your team a due date, or at least a date by which they are expected to have made progress on their goals. Second, make sure everyone there knows exactly what their goals are. A good meeting should lay out who is responsible for what. Third, follow up with your attendees afterward. Remind everyone what you discussed and what your next steps are. This ensures that all attendees have the same key takeaways from the meeting.
Teamwork: Making the Dream Work
Outside of the meeting room, your team members still need to know what their roles are. They have to know what to expect from their colleagues, as well as what those colleagues expect from them. To create strong team dynamics, you can start by establishing a routine with each of your team members. Meet with each member once a week at a time that works best for each of you. Ask what their preferred means of communication is, and use it. It could even be a fairly informal means, such as instant messaging. Reaching out to your team members on their terms shows you are cognizant of their individual communicative styles. If your team holds recurring meetings, make sure they are held consistently. Holding them at the same time each week keeps everyone to a schedule, and reinforces the precept that each team member should have made progress on their tasks from the previous meeting. If you sense conflict brewing between team members, these weekly meetings are great opportunities to defuse any serious tensions. Let everyone know that disagreements are healthy, but the team has to place the group’s mission and goals above any personal quarrels.
A well-functioning team is committed to producing strong work, which means each member should be committed to ensuring their colleagues are doing their best. You and your teammates must be able to give and receive candid feedback on each other’s work. If you are working on a particular assignment, ask your coworkers for their input. Remember, though, that their input must be specific. For example, do not just email your colleague a document you have been writing with the subject line, “Thoughts?” That colleague will not know where to begin critiquing your work, and you will both be very frustrated. Instead, ask them if your document is missing any relevant information. If it is a long document, request that they focus on one particular section. If you just want them to proofread, tell them that. Let them know exactly what you need from them. Encouraging your teammates like this builds buy-in and incentivizes them to contribute to your work. That is a strong step in mitigating the free-rider problem. It is also a great way to build trust among you and your colleagues. Just keep in mind that you cannot ignore your teammates. If they send you their feedback, make sure you actually use it. Otherwise, you will have wasted their time, as well as yours.
Finally, if your team members work remotely, you should remove as many communicative obstacles as you can. Because you cannot walk by someone’s desk or get your whole group into the same room, it is difficult to pick up on nuances – especially nonverbal ones. To compensate for physical distance, make sure everyone is more open. Keep your teammates constantly up to date on what projects you are working on. If you have to hold a recurring conference call or web meeting, make sure that you hold it at a consistent time and that you use the same format. Always record each meeting in case someone cannot attend. Remember that, when you work remotely, it is impossible to over-communicate. That is how you hold yourself, and everyone else, accountable for each other’s work.
In this lecture, we explored how to enhance your communication skills with your team. We learned about the unique challenges that team communication poses, as well as what steps to take to ensure your entire team is aligned, focused, and driven.
In the next lecture, we will uncover how to communicate in crises. We will examine how to be proactive in our communications, how to be open with our colleagues and stakeholders, and how to craft intelligent messages to mitigate any type of crisis situation.
1 Jeff Haden, “Why 99 Percent of All Meetings Are a Complete Waste of Money,” Inc.com, July 10, 2017, https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/why-99-percent-of-all-meetings-are-a-complete-wast.html.
2 Sébastien Ricard, “Five Strategies to Improve Communication with Team Members,” Forbes, January 8, 2020, https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2020/01/08/five-strategies-to-improve- communication-with-team-members/#2eba7c7d4536.
WEEK 5 NOTES
What It Means
What was the biggest mistake you ever made at your workplace? Did you send an email to a colleague containing information they should not have seen? Did you miscalculate some financial data and pass the wrong numbers to your supervisor? Perhaps it was something easily remedied, such as sending a customer the wrong invoice. Alternatively, maybe it was something you could not easily fix, like gravely offending your biggest client. In the face of adversity, what did you do? Whom did you reach out to, and what did you tell them?
Regardless of your role in your organization, you have had to respond to a crisis at some point. That is perfectly normal! In fact, you can expect to face a number of pressing situations every year. But even if crises are inevitable, you still need a communication plan. You must be prepared to mitigate whatever problems may arise, all while exercising a strong executive presence.
In this lecture, you will learn the fundamentals of strong crisis communication. We will explore Jack’s assumptions for crisis management, the resources available to you during a crisis, and what to tell stakeholders if the worst should happen.
Why It Matters
- Poor crisis management can damage your company’s image and your reputation.
- During a crisis, you will not have access to the same resources you normally have.
- A comprehensive communication plan for one issue can serve as a foundation for future crises.
“There is a silver lining to crisis management in that you rarely have to live through the same disaster twice.”
What Is Your Gut Instinct?
The biggest mistake you ever made was likely an individual workplace crisis. These happen to everyone and, while they are serious, they rarely threaten the long-term health of your entire organization. Your company will not go out of business because you accidentally filled the company car with the wrong type of fuel. But an organizational crisis, such as a huge public relations scandal, could jeopardize the entire organization’s future.
When you are faced with any crisis, you may be tempted to take one of two actions based on an emotional fear response. Some leaders opt to fight. This often means denying any wrongdoing or loudly denouncing accusers and critics. There are many reasons why this is usually not the best response. You know that passion is a necessity for strong leadership, but you also do not want to have to retract a hasty statement. Emotional outbursts or unfounded claims can also exacerbate your situation. Take United Airlines, for example. In April 2017, the company faced a massive public relations crisis when a passenger was forcibly removed from a sold-out flight; footage of the injured and bloodied passenger being dragged off the plane went viral online. Shortly afterward, United delivered a press release that contained erroneous information. United CEO Oscar Munoz then issued a statement apologizing for “having to re-accommodate” customers. In an email to employees, he also referred to the passenger as “disruptive and belligerent.”1 Both Munoz and United were lambasted for their response, which came off as rash and uncaring.
The other tempting option for leaders is to take flight. They will take extreme steps to avoid a confrontation, including retreating to a remote location or booking meetings all day, so they are unavailable for comment. This is not how a strong leader manages a crisis. The problem will still be there when they finally get around to confronting it, and by then, it may have gotten much worse. In July 2017, Equifax, a consumer credit reporting agency, discovered a cybersecurity breach; the personal data of roughly 143 million consumers had been taken. Neither the company nor CEO Richard Smith made a public announcement about the breach until September. They also did not immediately disclose whether sensitive information like personal identification numbers had been stolen. This late, inadequate response did not help the company’s image at all. Equifax was sued by hundreds of upset consumers; Smith resigned just two weeks after his announcement.
Neither fight nor flight should be your first impulse during a crisis. Instead, you should focus on upholding your best business communication practices. Your messaging must be clear and consistent, and you must be ready to listen and accept feedback from all of your relevant listeners. Shared understanding and alignment of your team’s efforts are essential. When a crisis poses a threat to your company, your reputation, or your career, an effective messaging strategy is vital.
Principles of Crisis Management
Speed is critical in all crisis scenarios, so do not let the situation get ahead of you. As Jack argued, there are five assumptions to apply to any crisis you face, regardless of its scope or whom it affects. Here is what to remember:
- Assume the worst.
Do not think the situation can be easily contained. You will invariably find out that the crisis is much bigger, and affects far more people, than you initially thought. By the time that happens, you cannot stay ahead of the situation, so you need to communicate with stakeholders and the public in a timely way.
Two fatal crashes in late 2018 and early 2019 called into question the safety of Boeing’s 737 MAX airplanes. CEO Dennis Muilenburg sought to reassure investors that he was confident in the planes, saying, “We know our airplanes are safe. We have not changed our design philosophy.”2 His outlook became hard to defend when aviation authorities grounded all 737 MAX planes. Matters got even worse in May 2019, when The Wall Street Journal reported that Boeing had withheld information about the 737 MAX’s safety issues for roughly a year before the first crash. Muilenburg’s reassurances that everything was fine rang hollow. By the end of 2019, investor confidence in Boeing was shaken, and Muilenburg was out of a job.
- There are no secrets.
Do not think you can hide the crisis or keep it out of public view. Eventually, everyone will find out what happened. Never presume you can buy people’s silence, because everyone involved will – and should – be documenting everything.
Uber has drawn intense scrutiny over its workplace culture, especially regarding sexual harassment. Managers and human resource representatives received multiple complaints about certain employees’ behavior. Even CEO Travis Kalanick was alleged to have heard reports of sexual harassment. Not even a major company like Uber could keep this crisis hidden. In 2017, former employee Susan Fowler posted on her blog, detailing her harassment and the threats she received for trying to report it. Kalanick resigned not long afterward.
- Your crisis management will not be portrayed favorably.
Do not think for one minute that outside observers will be on your side, especially if the crisis originated within your company. And you will only make matters worse if you purposely antagonize your critics. Withholding information, blaming others, or lashing out gives people no incentive to sympathize with you.
In early 2018, The Times reported that aid workers from Oxfam, a nonprofit human rights group, committed sexual exploitation while delivering humanitarian relief to Haiti in 2011. The accused workers were removed, but Oxfam now found itself in a massive crisis. Mere days after the report broke, CEO Mark Goldring sat for an interview with The Guardian. While he expressed remorse, he also complained that “people are gunning for Oxfam,” and “anything we say is being manipulated. We’ve been savaged.”3 This was a terrible way to respond to Oxfam’s dilemma; Goldring’s words made it sound as if he and the company were being victimized. He resigned by the end of the year.
- Your organization will undergo changes.
Often, a crisis arises due to a failure in policy or process; something went wrong that your company did not catch in time. Stakeholders will demand that you take major steps to prevent such an issue from happening again. They will also expect you to hold people in your organization accountable. It is likely you will have to reprimand or even let go of some of your workforce.
In April 2018, two African American men were arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia. The manager called the police on them when they sat down in the store without ordering. Protests ensued, and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney called it a clear example of racial discrimination. In response, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson met with the two men and apologized for the incident. The manager who called the police parted ways with the company. Starbucks moved to shut down its U.S. stores for part of a day to hold a racial bias education program. The company also announced a new policy allowing anyone to sit in their stores, regardless of whether or not they were buying anything. By implementing these changes, rapidly and comprehensively, Johnson helped Starbucks stay ahead of the crisis.
- Your organization will come out of the crisis stronger.
It may not feel like it, but the crisis will eventually end. If your company takes the necessary steps to defuse the situation, you will be better equipped to handle any future problems. The key is to draw lessons from the crisis and actually act on them.
Between 2015 and 2016, reports of E.coli and norovirus infections significantly hurt Chipotle’s reputation. In response, company founder Steve Ells issued an apology on national television. For each of its restaurants, Chipotle created the new position of food safety leader to help oversee both food preparation and employee health. Company leadership undertook a series of initiatives, including guaranteeing that employees get paid if they call in sick. Thanks to the major steps Chipotle took, the company weathered its crisis, its stock price rebounded, and customers came back.
Your Crisis Toolkit
During a crisis, you may feel as if everything is collapsing around you. You may think you cannot control your situation or the narrative being told about you. A crisis can feel particularly disheartening because there is one very important move that you cannot make. Throughout your career, you have hopefully created strong relationships with your superiors, colleagues, and clients. These people can attest to your authenticity and integrity. You will need to rely heavily on these relationships, because during a crisis, you cannot build new ones. This is especially true if your organization created the situation. Few people will want to associate with you in the middle of a crisis since doing so may jeopardize their own reputations. Some of your associates may even cut ties with you altogether. It is painful when this happens, but you cannot blame them.
Whatever you may be feeling, remember that you are not powerless. You have a number of resources at your disposal to mitigate your situation. First, you have more information than anyone else. There may not be any secrets in the end, but you will know the details well before any of your stakeholders or critics do. Use this knowledge to build a comprehensive crisis plan that addresses every possible issue. Because you know more than anyone else, your second key resource is time. You have a head start on responding to your crisis. Issuing a statement as soon as possible shows that you are aware of the situation and are acting immediately to fix it. Having this extra time also gives you a chance to shape your own narrative. How you frame the crisis will set the tone for how everyone else depicts it, whether they are your allies or your critics. Third, you have a wealth of communication channels. Delivering public speeches is usually helpful, but make sure you tell your narrative through social media, too. This allows you to give more frequent updates on your situation, and it helps you reach a wider audience. Finally, you know who all of your stakeholders are. This means you can tailor your crisis communications to different listeners. If your employees are affected, explain what policy changes you will implement and how you will reinforce your company’s values. If you need to communicate with customers, address their concerns before they escalate their complaints.
Above all else, be proactive. Every crisis will lead to change, and you will survive it. How you survive that change will determine what you learn from that situation and whether your company emerges stronger when the crisis is over.
In this lecture, we explored how to communicate during a crisis. We analyzed Jack’s principles of crisis management. We also assessed an array of response tactics. Remember that all of your communications during a crisis must be grounded in openness and honesty. That is what your stakeholders will respond to best, and that is what will help you weather the storm.
In the next lecture, you will learn how to communicate strategically. We will discuss how to craft purposeful messages that accomplish specific goals. We will also examine different communication styles and assess when to apply them.
1 Matt Rosoff, “United CEO Doubles Down in Email to Employees, Says Passenger Was ‘Disruptive and Belligerent’,” CNBC, April 11, 2017, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/04/10/united-ceo-passenger-disruptive- belligerent.html.
2 Cindy Silviana & Eric M. Johnson, “‘Our Airplanes Are Safe,’ Boeing Says as Officials Push Training,” Reuters, December 6, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-indonesia-crash/our-airplanes-are-safe- boeing-says-as-officials-push-training-idUSKBN1O51QC.
3 Decca Aitkenhead, “Oxfam Boss Mark Goldring: ‘Anything We Say Is Being Manipulated. We’ve Been Savaged’,” The Guardian, February 16, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/16/oxfam- boss-mark-goldring-anything-we-say-is-being-manipulated-weve-been-savaged.
WEEK 6 NOTES
What It Means
Imagine that your boss has given you a new responsibility. They want you to lead a team on a major project initiative. Your first move is to meet with your team. You tell them that you want all of their input, that you will always be open with them, and that you will all win. You fill your talk with lofty rhetoric that sounds very inspirational. You end the meeting feeling good about what you have accomplished…but what exactly did you accomplish? Not long afterward, your team members come to you with a slew of questions: How big is this project? What project areas are we responsible for? What exactly are we supposed to be doing?
In your attempt to motivate your team, you left several critical components out of your message. You never explicitly stated what the team is working toward. You never explained what your objectives are or what success looks like. You did not even tell them why they were completing the project in the first place. In short, you did not communicate strategically.
In this lecture, you will learn how to create a strong communication strategy. We will discuss how to craft messages that are aligned with your mission. We will also explore how to analyze your audiences and how to tailor your communications to different groups of colleagues.
Why It Matters
- Messages that are poorly organized or unclear cannot reach your intended audience.
- Clearly established and communicated goals reinforce your mission and values.
- A comprehensive communication strategy will align your team and get every brain in
“People work better when they know what the goal is and why.”
What Is Strategic Communication?
You have probably heard the phrase “strategic communication” multiple times. But, like “executive presence,” the term has several definitions. It is most commonly used in a public relations or marketing capacity. For our purposes, we will discuss the term as it relates to internal communication: strategic communication is delivering your message effectively in support of your objectives. It is letting your listeners know exactly what your vision and desired outcomes are. It involves clearly linking your aims to your mission. Strategic communication is, at its core, explicitly goal-oriented messaging.
Clearly, developing a communication strategy involves more than just delivering a message. It entails knowing exactly what you want to achieve, what your message needs to include, who your listeners are, what your listeners’ values are, and what the best means of delivery is. In short, you need to consider five factors:
- Objective · Content · Audience · Culture
That is a lot to think about, but each factor plays a significant role in determining how
successful your communication will be. Let us delve into each one.
In business, you never write just for the sake of writing. You want to accomplish something. Perhaps you want to tell your audience about a new policy or product, or perhaps you want to persuade them to complete a task. Maybe you just want to motivate your listeners and congratulate them on a successful business venture. Your objective, whatever it may be, is the primary reason you are communicating. This is the most important piece of information for your listeners. They will give you their immediate attention, but only if you convey this information very directly. As Laura Brown puts it in this week’s readings, you must “get the ask clear.”1
“The ask” is essentially the thesis of your message. You have probably read countless emails from colleagues that were long, convoluted, and full of unnecessary details. By the time you were done reading, you thought to yourself, “What am I supposed to take from this?” To avoid this in your own communication, spell out your thesis clearly. You should be able to write, in one sentence, precisely what you want your listeners to take away from your message. Alternatively, you can pinpoint your ask by completing this fill-in-the-blank statement: “This communication will be successful if _______________.”
Spelling out your objective lets listeners know what you want from them. It also helps set the tone for the rest of your message. Based on what you need, you will use a particular communication style that will lead to the outcome you want. Social psychologist Rensis Likert developed a series of management styles that you can use to craft your communications:
- Tell. You state facts and inform your listeners what needs to happen. You are not asking for buy-in or feedback. This style is useful when you need to quickly share information or when there is no time to discuss matters.
- Sell. You are trying to inspire your listeners. You are offering something you hope they will buy. You should use this style in complex scenarios where your listeners have not been able to decide on a plan of action. We will explore this style more in our lesson on the art of persuasion.
- Consult. You are the ultimate decision maker, but you need others’ input to inform your decision. You solicit feedback on issues that affect your listeners. This style tends to produce holistic solutions.
- Join. You are not the sole decision maker; your listeners will be actively involved throughout the process. You will all slowly migrate to a shared consensus about a course of action. This style is particularly powerful because it facilitates full buy-in from each of your listeners.
JWI 505: Business Communications and Executive Presence
Week 6 Lecture Notes
Once you establish exactly why you are delivering a message, you must then give your message substance. You have told your listeners what your objective is. Now, you need to give them the information they need to help you fulfill that objective.
The best way to start is to determine what your listeners need to know. Imagine you are the CEO of a tech hardware company. The company produces a circuit board that has been the source of several customer complaints. Your quality control team needs to check the circuit board’s design, which will require a change in their procedure. You need to communicate with the team about why this change is necessary. You know what your objective is: tell the quality control team to change their procedure. You know your communication will succeed if your listeners change the procedure and understand why they are changing it. You also know you will use the Tell communication style. Now, what content do your listeners need to know? They should know:
- · What the procedure change will be
- · Why the change is necessary
- · Who will oversee the change
Focusing on these three points will streamline your message; the audience should not have to hear a massive amount of information that does not pertain to them. For instance, your listeners do not need to hear you blame them for the circuit board’s poor quality. Making accusations is a quick way to create discontent among the team. You want them focused on fixing their procedure, not worried about whether they will be fired. Your listeners do not need to know about your other products. Those products have no effect on your current message. Your listeners also do not need to hear about the other procedure options you considered. You did not choose them, so they are irrelevant to your message.
Once you know your main points, order them so that they flow logically. For example, if you are writing an email or a memo, consider organizing your paragraphs using the BLUF method, or “bottom line up front.” This places your big ideas at the beginning of your paragraphs, ensuring that readers know exactly what to take away from each one. Then, explain why you are making your ask, why your listeners need to act, and how they should act.
At the end of your message, remind your listeners what needs to happen. Think of your message as an arc: you will begin and end on the same note, but the other components of the communication should build on each other. This ensures your content is comprehensive while also being easy to follow.
Even if you have never met or spoken to your listener before, you have to create a rapport with them. Your message has to make sense to them, and they need to understand your objective right away. Therefore, you have to craft your message specifically for them. To understand your listeners’ point of view, Brown reminds us of three key factors:
- · Relationship. How closely do you interact with these listeners? What are their roles relative to you? Will you be engaging in vertical, hierarchical communication? Or are you speaking to your peers, or horizontally?
- · Information. Do your listeners know a lot about the topic you are communicating about? Is there some additional knowledge they need to know before fulfilling your objective?
- · Attitude. How do you think your listeners will respond to your communication? What questions or feelings will they have?
Brown also recommends you fill in the blanks to these two statements:
- · “My purpose is to ______________ so that my [listener] will ______________.”
- · “My [listener] needs to understand ___________ to be able to do that.”2
Let us return to our example of the tech hardware company. In terms of relationship, you probably interact with the quality control team, or at least the head of the team, fairly often. You are the CEO, so the team will do what you ask. You can be direct and forthright, but your message does not have to be forceful. In terms of information, the team is comprised of experts who know everything about your circuit boards. They probably know even more than you! Therefore, you do not have to waste time explaining exactly how the circuit boards work. You also do not have to remind them what the current procedure is. And in terms of attitude, you know the team will follow your directions. But because the company has been receiving complaints about the circuit boards, the team will likely be anxious. Enforcing a procedure change could sound punitive, even if you are not actively looking to blame anyone. You need to reassure them that the procedure change is not meant to punish, but to ensure your circuit boards are high-quality.
Remembering all of these factors – who your listeners are, what they know, how they feel – will ensure you are communicating directly and effectively to them. It is also a terrific demonstration of your empathy. You are showing you care about your listeners enough to craft your message around them and their response.
Think back to our lesson on intercultural communication. You know that, when you communicate across cultures, you have to consider a vast array of differences between you and your listeners. There are subtleties, nuances, and intangible factors that can drastically alter how your message is received. The same principle holds true in strategic communication. Even if you do not have to account for geographic differences, there are other distinctions to bear in mind. Different industries, organizations, and even work groups will have different cultures.
For our tech hardware company, the quality control team’s culture will affect how they receive your message. Let us assume the team is a relaxed group. There is a hierarchy, but team members can address each other – and their bosses – by their first names. Team members are not individually-oriented; group decisions matter more than each person’s own decisions. With this in mind, you would not send an overly formal email to the group. You can be informal in tone while still being direct in your message. You would also direct your communication to the entire group, not just the head of the team. This way, everyone on the quality control team will know exactly what is expected of them. They will also respond in a cooperative fashion; for this team, changing their procedure is a group project.
Consider all of the cultural details that you need to account for. How relaxed are your listeners? Do they collaborate on a lot of work, or is it “everyone for themselves?” If you have multiple listeners, how close-knit are they? How direct do you have to be? What can you do to enhance your credibility? These questions may not have easy answers, but you must address them before you send your message.
Scholar Marshall McLuhan famously observed that “the medium is the message.” How you send a message is just as important as what the message contains, sometimes even more so. Think about it. In grade school, students learn how to add and subtract numbers. Some students learn faster than others, but not necessarily because they are smarter. It is more likely because they are taught in a more accessible way, or in a way that better suits their learning style. In the business world, your listeners will respond differently to different media.
For our tech hardware company example, you should take into account factors like the size of the quality control team. If it is a big group, you will not meet with each team member individually. That would take a lot of time, and some listeners might interpret your message differently from others. You could call a group meeting or give a presentation, but remember, you want them to enact a procedure change. That needs to stick in their minds, and the change will probably be very detailed. Unless you have complex handouts, or unless everyone is taking notes, a big meeting may overwhelm your listeners. Your best option, in this case, is to email the team with your ask. You can explain precisely what the procedure change will entail, and your listeners will have a written record of what they need to do.
When choosing a means of delivery, you should consider issues like how many listeners you have and what responses you want. Written communication is preferable for sending detailed messages to larger audiences. You would use email if you do not want to take up too much time, or if you want all of your recipients to have the exact same copy of your message. A big presentation is a great medium if you want to solicit feedback or group involvement. Everybody receives your message at the same time. If you only need feedback from one particular person, an individual meeting will suffice. As we have learned, talking with somebody one on one is a great medium for building strong interpersonal relationships. You can also better convey emotions through a face-to-face discussion as opposed to a memo.
In this lecture, we explored the elements of a comprehensive communication strategy. We discussed the five components of a strategy and how each one affects how your messages are crafted and received. One last note to remember is that, whenever you put together a message, do not just deliver it right away. Look over your main points. If you are writing an email or a memo, read it out loud to yourself twice. Ask yourself if you are missing anything or if anything is unclear. Think about how you would respond to this message if you were the listener or reader. And of course, if there are any spelling or grammatical errors, make sure you fix them!
In the next lecture, you will learn more about one of the communication styles you use most frequently in business – persuasion. We will explore how to use narratives to enhance your messages, how to “hook” your audience, and how to generate support for your proposals and ideas
- 1 Laura Brown, The Only Business Writing Book You’ll Ever Need (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2019), 11-20.
- 2 Brown, Business Writing, 21-