When Leaders have to communicate to their organization, all too often the mental process of preparation begins with this question: “What do I want to say?” The answer to that question usually falls within one of several predictable buckets:
- I want to discuss our performance
- I want to highlight successes
- I want to recognize some of our people
- I want to discuss our culture
- I want to share our strategy
- I want to give a preview of changes coming
- I want to stress our priorities
- I want to make an announcement
Communication efforts like this are not only great to undertake — I believe they are among the most important aspects of the job that a Leader of an organization has. However, despite the best of intentions, efforts by the Leader to connect with the people being led often fall flat and fail to make an impact. Why? Because this next question seldom gets asked:
What do I want my audience to hear?
These are not the same question.
One thing trials do for the lawyers who are involved: they provide piercing clarity for the purpose behind every act of communication that takes place in the courtroom. There is a verdict that will be rendered, and there are jurors or a judge who will be making that call. Persuading them to take action in your client’s favor at the end of the trial is the whole purpose behind everything that takes place. Both the Rules of Evidence and good litigation sense limit lawyers and their witnesses from simply saying whatever they want to say. Because the outcome is the measure of success, competent (much less excellent) courtroom communication is always organized around, shaped by, and packaged with the focus on how the audience will hear the message.
Standing up in front of your organization and rattling off a stream of jargony corporate speak may sound impressive … and may be what you want to say. However, as a tool for leading an organization that is made up of actual people, it isn’t worth the time. When you want to build your message with words like optimize and leverage and improved efficiency and … stop and ask yourself: “What do I want them to understand from that?”
Then just say THAT.
And if becoming excellent at communicating with your organization is your aspiration, take it a step further and deeper and ask yourself:
What do I want my audience to feel?
Thinking about how your people will feel about what you say will shape your communication choices. A message designed to generate feelings of Trust will be different than one designed to avoid feelings of Fear at any cost, even when the underlying facts of the message are the same. But to built a communication plan at this level, you have to first care how your audience feels about your message. If that isn’t the case, then why bother communicating at all?