31/05/2013

By Gavin Meikle, Head Of Learning And Founder Of Inter-Activ


The key to effective business communication is clarity, but achieving it can be easier said than done.

In this short article I’d like to challenge you to start by thinking about the purpose or outcome of your communication before you make it.

The devil is in the detail, or so the saying goes so let’s start by considering what I actually mean when I use the word outcome. I don’t mean the finished product e.g. the letter email or conversation, I mean the response I want to get from that communication. Communication is only effective when the receiver does what you want them to do.

Let’s look at some specific examples to make sure we are clear. Take the situation where you are giving a colleague feedback. It will help if you start by getting clear about what you want them to do as a result of the feedback. For example, do you want them to stop doing something or start doing something? If you are not crystal clear in your own mind about what you want them to do, how likely is it that, by the end of your conversation, they will be clear what they need to do? And, if they are not sure about what needs to be done, it’s unlikely that they will do it.

What about delegation? Have you ever struggled with an assigned task because you were unsure what the person giving you the task actually wanted? One of the commonest causes of failure is a lack of clarity as to what is required. Effective delegators realise that the most important part of the delegation process is clarity in specifying the desired result. Compare these two examples and ask yourself which is more likely to be achieved.

• I’d like a brief on employee health issues by Friday

• I’d like a 1 page summary of the five most common health related reasons for employee absence in the last 3 month. Please include the number of working days lost associated with each cause. I need the report by 2pm on Friday at the latest.

Finally, let’s consider the application of this approach to business presentations. How many times have you sat through a presentation and asked yourself “What’s this about? What do they expect me to do?”

Most poor presenters get seduced by the “what” of the presentation and forget the “why” and so they jump into developing the content of their presentation.

Smart presenters get clear about the why first, and then choose their content (examples, case studies, statistics etc.) to support that “why”. They ask themselves “What do I want my audience to do as a result of this presentation?” Then, and only then, do they design the content to move their audience towards that desired outcome.

So, Next time you point the finger at someone for not listening to your communication or not following your instructions, remember that three fingers are pointing back at you. Were you really clear about what you wanted?