Clarity in Communication

November 10, 2021

Communicating well has never been easier yet it appears we are continually falling short. Despite incredible leaps in technology, including a dedicated communication device in the palm of our hands, we struggle to communicate effectively. This is a huge problem for productivity and profitability.

A 2011 survey of 400 companies with 100,000 employees each cited an average loss per company of $62.4 million per year in lost productivity because of inadequate communication to and between employees, according to the Holmes Report on “The Cost of Poor Communications.” 

Is this due to the sender or receiver of communication? The answer is an emphatic YES!

The sender can undermine message effectiveness for many reasons, including choosing the wrong medium (texting versus calling), not recognizing the power of non-verbal communication (body posture, tone of voice, etc.), not providing context, and using too few, too many or the incorrect words to clearly convey thoughts. The receiver can fail to carefully listen or read the message due to distraction or lack of focus, choose to make assumptions rather than ask clarifying questions, and respond only partially or not at all.

The most common reason organizations communicate poorly is because they don’t achieve clarity around key messages and stick with them, according to Patrick Lencioni in his book The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. The discipline to overcommunicate clarity is one aspect of Lencioni’s Four Discipline Model, which he says is vital for leadership where organizational health is concerned.

True Rumors

“The best way to ensure that a message gets communicated throughout an organization is to spread rumors about it,” writes Lencioni. “Tell true rumors. After decisions are made on a leadership team, have each leader immediately communicate that message to their direct reports.”

Lencioni says this results in “cascading communication” with a structured but interpersonal process of rolling key messages down throughout the organization. The effectiveness of it has to do with the contrast to more formal means of communication.

Three Keys to Cascading Communication:

  1. Message consistency from one leader to another
  2. Timeliness of delivery
  3. Live, real-time and in person communication (not email, but videoconferencing when necessary) – Make it interactive so questions can be asked in the moment

Sending & Receiving

Whether you’re in a leadership role or not, simple things can make a huge difference in the way you communicate as a sender and receiver.

When sending a message:

  • Be Intentional: Ensure the intention behind your message is clear. Provide context, set the appropriate tone, and remain sensitive to your audience.
  • Choose Best Medium: Though you may default to text or email, there are many times and many messages that should demand using the phone or delivered face-to-face.
  • Emoji or No Emoji: Etiquette regarding emojis in business texts is so far unclear. Context is critical as emojis are seen as more casual and can be interpreted inconsistently. On the other hand, they can quickly convey a mood. It’s probably best to use them sparingly.

When receiving a message:

  • Listen/Read Carefully: Seek first to understand, then to be understood as Stephen Covey so eloquently stated in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Be an active listener.
  • Ask Clarifying Questions: Rather than make assumptions, be sure you fully understand the message you read or hear. Assume only that the sender has positive intent until you have proof otherwise.
  • Respond Thoughtfully: Before you respond, ensure you clearly understand what the sender is looking for. Is it agreement, acceptance, approval, etc.? Once you know this, respond in a way that is respectful and kind.

These are obviously only a few things to consider as you seek to improve communication in your role. Keeping these in mind when you send or receive a message will likely improve the clarity in your communication. And that’s good for you and your organization.

Intention: Vital to Effective Action

March 17, 2014

“He who has a why can bear almost any how.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

We all know intention without action leads to nothing, but what about action without intention? When we focus on accomplishing something before fully considering the purpose behind it, the action can be a wasted effort.

Your intention is important because you gain clarity of purpose prior to the action you take. The extra time taken to clarify why you are doing something can be the difference between acting for the sake of being busy versus actually accomplishing something important.

Intentions are important for any size decision and in any part of our lives.

At work this can be as big as restructuring a large company’s workforce, which requires a great deal of forethought and communication on the intention behind the change. Providing a clear and compelling message on the intention behind the restructure can greatly help facilitate this change effort.

A middle manager looking to complete a project that requires active support of others across the organization may struggle without stating her intention. Clearly identifying and communicating the intention behind the action you want enables you to get assistance from others regardless of their own priorities. And if you can tie the intent of your project to the organization’s overall goals, you are much more likely to gain others’ support.

Getting people to follow and help you in your efforts to accomplish something are greatly increased when you begin with the intention for why you are taking action.

In his book “Start with Why,” author Simon Sinek says that those who start with a clear and compelling why never manipulate others, but instead inspire them. People then follow not because they have to, but because they want to.

This notion of a compelling why is very much grounded in intention. Your why to inspire yourself and others needs to be grounded in how well you have thought out and articulated your intention.

So how can you learn to be more intentional prior to your actions?

Here’s a few ways (big and small) each of us can more likely accomplish whatever it is we want to achieve. It doesn’t take a huge investment in time or money.

It does, however, involve consciously being intentional. It involves actively putting forth what it is you want so others know about it. Whether at work or anywhere in our lives, being intentional will lead to getting more of what you want.

Here’s a few ways to encourage more intentionality into your life:

  • Use your turn signal. I don’t mean after reaching the intersection when the driver of the car behind you no longer has an opportunity to get into another lane. I mean giving the other driver a full half-block warning (which is the law, by the way) to make a fully informed decision with regard to your intention. Hopefully, this will catch on with others.
  • Speak to others directly. This means making it crystal clear what you want from the other person when speaking to him or her. Don’t talk around what’s on your mind, but instead speak from your heart, be honest and be direct. If you often hear people say “what are you trying to say,” then this is for you.
  • Begin with the end in mind. As Stephen R. Covey says in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” all things are created twice. And the mental or first creation needs to precede the physical or second creation. Know where you’re going before you start your engine.
  • Be true to your word. Say what you do and do what you say. Your intentions will only be effective if you regularly act on what you say you will do. By stating your intention, you are proclaiming to yourself and others what you will act upon. Hold yourself accountable for this.

This begs the question: Why do we so often hold others accountable for their lack of acting on intentions, but we rationalize away our own failure to act? This seems in line with John Wallen, who said we judge ourselves by our intentions, but others on their impact on us.

Surely discipline plays a role. Consistent behavior requires that we hold ourselves accountable for following through on our intentions. If this is a problem, begin by simply noticing when you are not following through with your intentions and the rationale you provide for this. Is there a theme? What does this reveal about you?

Executing effective action requires the intention behind it is clear to everyone involved or impacted by it. Whether you are trying to carry out a huge project in your organization or simply making a left hand turn, signal your intention to enhance your effectiveness at taking action.