The 4 Key Combination to Effective Communication

communicatingHave you ever made a statement or a request and the result you get is completely different than what you expected?

How did that happen? How did the other person or persons misunderstand?

You were absolutely clear, crystal clear; there was no room for doubt.

Well, not exactly.

No matter how clear you thought you were, no matter how much sense it made in your own mind, you were not clear to your audience. There was a breakdown in communication.

There is a four key combination to effective communication: know your audience, know what is important to them, know how they listen and know your style.

1. Know Your Audience

If you are a parent you will or have no doubt experienced this phenomenon. When I would tell my son to clean his room I mistakenly thought that was clear. It was obvious from the result that it was not.

My best friend has two teenagers who are very close. Her son is very protective and takes a fatherly role with his sister. He mentioned not too long ago that he was frustrated because she did not open up to him as much as she used to and he felt did not listen when he gave her advice.

I had a team that was made up of a wonderful group of people all with different backgrounds, goals and stages in life. Some wanted to move up the corporate ladder, some worked to fill time, some were single parents dependent upon a paycheck, some were getting an education in a different field and some were new to the industry.

2. Know What is Important

For my son the most important item to cleaning his room is getting it done quickly.

For my best friend’s son it was being heard and appreciated for being the big brother and taking care of his sister.

For my team there were multiple factors including praise, growth, recognition, advancement or bonus.

There are no right or wrong motivations so there should be no judgement on why you need to incorporate what is important to them in your message.

If you incorporate their need into your message you are more likely to get buy in and clarity.

Although it is perfectly acceptable to give the reason “because I said so” to your children, it is not in the working world.

3. Know How They Listen

My son listens with an emphasis on omission. If I do not say it than it is not assumed or done. I learned that I had to spell out what I wanted and not assume one step logically lead to another. I made checklists. He would get frustrated and think I was oversimplifying the process; however, the result was what I wanted and the process was made much easier for him.

For my best friend’s daughter, it was triggers. Hearing her brother say things like, “You need to” or anything that took on a commanding position put up a wall. I suggested to her brother that he talk with her as her brother, from a guy’s perspective. The first time he applied this tactic she responded in a positive way saying she had not thought about the situation from that perspective and she followed his advice.

For my team the listening style varied. Some were black and white, straight to the point kind of listeners. Others were paint the picture with color and flowing lines. If I tried to use all the colors of the rainbow with the straight line listeners, I would lose them – quickly.

If I tried the black and white method with the whole picture listeners, I would confuse them and leave them without all the necessary information to complete the task. I then incorporated their needs into the communication style. In asking various team members for a report the request would vary depending upon the team member:

“We need this report to give to the management team to help them project next month’s numbers.”
“We need to get this report to management and I want you to put it together because I think it would be a great opportunity for you to learn this system, which is used a lot in the position you want.”
“We need to put together this report and I want you to lead it so management sees you as the go to person.”
“We need to get this report together and you know this system better than anyone else, I truly appreciate your skill on this.”

4. Know Your Style

I am an over-analyzer. When I look at a challenge I see it from a multitude of angles, possibilities, challenges and options. I could have several scenarios running through my head at one time. My brain takes multi-tasking to another level. If I were to verbalize my thoughts it would make other people’s heads explode.

My natural inclination is to give all the details – paint the picture with all the colors of the rainbow and every possible twist and turn. It was only from an awareness of my natural communication style that I could learn how to communicate in the straight line method.

Self-awareness gives opportunity for growth and an improved skill set. I am now able to fluctuate between the two for the most effective communication style for my audience. Yet there was one more factor that I need to add: learn to ask and take responsibility.

Learn to Ask and Take Responsibility

Sometimes just a little tweak can make a huge improvement on communication, respect, trust and results. Instead of barking orders, you engage and gain buy in. This builds respect, which in turn leads to shared accountability for the task and a greater effort for the desired result.

It is not always easy to determine a listening style and adapt your own communication style to your audience. The fastest and easiest way to do this is to ask your audience.

When I first work with a team or individuals I often will ask questions like, “does that make sense?” “what do you think?” “how do you see this?” Ask questions that will give you clues to what is important to them, if they like colors or black and white and how they listen.

I also put the onus on me. I will tell the group or individual that I know that sometimes my communication is not clear, what I think in my head is not the same that comes out of my mouth so I want to make sure they can understand me and we are on the same page. I reiterate that it is important to me that I communicate effectively without overkill.

This way I have set the stage that what they think is important, I am not trying to bully or demand rather I am looking for engagement and commitment and I am willing to change my methods for what works best for them.

I also take responsibility to get more information from them to make sure I do not drop the ball in receiving information, not just giving it. If something is said that could possibly be taken in more than one way, I ask. I preface with “I am not challenging you or doubting you, I just want to make sure I fully understand…”

Letting a boss know that I want to do a good job so I want to make sure that I am clear on expectations goes a long way and is much better than assuming and screwing it up. I have assumed, I have screwed up – it is not pretty nor is it fun.

This is in direct conflict with good ol’ Abe in better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt. I would rather look like an idiot for a moment and end up being on the same page.

Sometimes leadership feels they have to know all the answers and get it right every time. Take away that title and you are still human. People have different motivations, communication styles, expectations, fears, ambitions, goals and motives. How can you possibly know all this information without asking?

Do not be afraid to ask, to go out on a limb and tell your team that you do not always know the best way to communicate and for that you need their help. I have yet had an occasion when clarifying with a team or staff member hinders my credibility or authority. It has actually proven the opposite, it has been respected because it proves I care enough about the project, its effects and the people involved to get it right, even by admitting there are things I do not know.


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I help people identify and set a path to achieve their career goals by using the V Formula:

Your Value + Your Voice = Visibility

Visibility is the leverage to move in, move up or move on in your career; expand your book of business or territory, grow your company and strengthen your team.


Lisa K. McDonald, Owner and Principal of Career Polish, Inc. is a favorite speaker and seminar facilitator at colleges, professional organizations and companies around the US speaking to leadership, sales and athletic teams; transitioning/downsized employees and networking groups about personal branding, networking, creating executive presence and achieving career movement success. To find out more, visit Career Polish, Inc.

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