The biggest communication problem for leaders is the presumption it has occurred.
- “I sent the email to the team; they got the word.”
- “I gave the speech; they heard me.”
- “I explained it to him on the phone; he gets it.”
They don’t get it. At least not yet. Why not?
- You’ve been thinking about this topic or idea much more than they have. They need help to catch up.
- How many times do you have to hear a new song before you learn the lyrics?
- You’re competing with a daily barrage of information, media, and distractions, all vying for their attention. Not to mention the high-velocity chatter going on in their heads (just like yours).
Nearly all of us have strapped-in to a Mach 2 world. We’re busy, we’re frantic, we’re self-absorbed.
Steven Pressfield’s advice to writers (and leaders):
- “Nobody wants to read your shit” – the most important writing lesson I ever learned.
- “It isn’t that people are mean or cruel. They’re just busy… Don’t be lazy; don’t assume. Look at every word through the eye of the busy, impatient, skeptical (but also generous and curious) reader. Give him something worthy of the time and attention he’s giving you…The awareness that nobody wants to read/hear/see/buy what we’re writing/singing/filming/selling is the Plymouth Rock upon which all successful artists and entrepreneurs base their public communications. They know that, before all else, they must overcome this natural resistance in their audience. They must find a way to cut through the clutter.”
The answer: be clear, concise, and direct.
- Be clear — Communicate with words the audience understands; use images and diagrams; tell a story; write like you talk, not in corporate-speak mumbo jumbo that sounds impressive but signifies nothing. In conversation, ask for a read-back to confirm understanding.
- Be concise — Don’t use 10 words when six will do. Don’t be repetitive. This takes time and thought which is why most people don’t do it. Assume your reader is impatient. Get to the point quickly.
- In conversation, if they want elaboration they’ll ask.
- In writing, give an executive summary or intro paragraph that covers the key points with details and other relevant information down below.
- Be direct — Make sure the intended audience knows they’re the intended audience. This is usually a problem when giving bad or uncomfortable news. How can you expect them to get the message if they don’t know it’s intended for them?
Be a High-Trust Leader: communicate so they understand you and don’t assume the message was received without verification.