“Communicate, communicate, communicate!”— a phrase one of my clients loves to tell team leaders. The challenge is, while they acknowledge that not everyone is a natural born communicator, just saying the word over and over like a call for Beetlejuice doesn’t necessarily summon good communication. So, how to clarify or help your leaders become more effective communicators—a skill we all know is needed to lead, inspire vision and show the way.
In any industry, good communication is key for disseminating mission critical information throughout an organization. It’s even more important for creative leaders because they are looking to share their vision in such a way that their team members “get it”. And get it in such a way that their team members’ creative production is in line with their vision.
I’ve written on this dynamic in my article on delegation which you can read here, but in this article, let’s explore the different qualities and formats of communication to assist you in making the best choices when you “communicate, communicate, communicate”. Here’s what you need to consider:
WHAT IS THE INTENT OF MY COMMUNICATION?
As with any endeavor where you are attempting to produce a result, knowing your intent is the best place to start. If you think that determining the intent of every message you send is overkill, you might consider those emails that you wish you hadn’t sent or wish that you had taken a few more moments to contemplate before sending. Asking yourself “what am I really trying to communicate here?” am I looking for information? Seeking to inspire change? Deliver corrective feedback? Identifying your answers can help keep you out of those sticky situations.
HOW BEST TO COMMUNICATE MY INTENT?
Another benefit of focusing on the intent of a communication is that it will greatly inform how you want to send that communication. Using the most appropriate format can make a big difference. By now, we’ve all heard of the dot-com horror stories of people being fired en masse over text message. That’s a great approach if you love burning bridges, but if you like your bridges a bit more flame retardant, then please stick with me!
WHAT QUALITIES ARE IMPORTANT IN COMMUNICATING?
Communication formats carry different qualities which may or may not be suited for your communication. For example, you wouldn’t give corrective feedback to a team member over text, because you’d want a richer format for that communication that allows more back and forth with that person. When we say different qualities, here’s what we mean:
- Number of Recipients
- Sensitivity and Confidentiality
- Storage and Retrieval
How quickly does your message need to be sent out and how quickly do you need a response? Also, consider if your communication needs immediate feedback and live interaction (face to face, phone, video-chat). Simultaneity is great if we want to toss ideas back and forth in real time, but it can also be inefficient because of scheduling.
Being face to face (again, virtually via video or otherwise) gives you the direct experience of someone’s visceral reaction to whatever you just said. You’re able to see how your communication is landing with that person. Do they seem like they’re comprehending the message and how that message is being received? This is highly recommended when communications get emotionally sticky or are very complex.
Number of Recipients
Who needs to be in the meeting? Who needs to be on this email? How many is too many? While there can be political reasons to include or not include team members, keep in mind that as a leader, every time you add someone to the group, you are pulling their attention away from something else you asked them to do.
Also remember that every time you add another voice to the conversation, it can become more challenging to achieve clarity or to focus the conversation.
Sensitivity and Confidentiality
In the creative world, there are clearly times when communications are sensitive and need to be kept confidential. Picking the right format is important if there’s a risk that the communication could be seen or heard by the wrong person at the wrong time.
Storage and Retrieval
Will you or someone else need to retrieve your communication at some later point in time? If so, email provides that option, but some groups are preferring to move away from email and are embracing group messaging tools such as Slack™. Tools like these provide a good, centralized storage solution embedded in other project data, and they also help avoid the version confusion that can crop up when files are edited and then sent back and forth over email.
WHAT’S THE BEST FORMAT FOR MY COMMUNICATION?
Once you know your intent, and identify what qualities are best, then you can easily figure out which format will best suit your communication. This next section might seem obvious, but I want to call these formats out so that you can bring more conscious awareness to which ones you might be using by default and therefore, unintentionally causing issues with your team.
Face to Face: Obviously the richest form of communication. It’s immediate, but can be time-consuming to schedule, also requires a scribe to get decisions and next actions memorialized.
Virtual Face to Face: Not quite as rich as face to face, but more practical than traveling to the same space. It is easier to be memorialized if the technology you use allows for recording.
Phone: Here there is no facial feedback, so meanings can be confused. It’s also a little more challenging to record, and it’s also difficult to know if we are looking at the same reference material.
Voicemail: Same richness as a phone conversation. Voicemail can be easily saved, but voicemail is also asynchronous. Feedback or reactions are therefore delayed, and frankly this format is becoming more obsolete by better technologies.
Text: Great for quick messages that need immediate answers. It is difficult to communicate nuance, and really poor for tracking work requested. Saving and finding old texts can be challenging to say the least.
Email: Obviously widely used, but also widely abused. It’s asynchronous so you have to wait for an answer, and it’s pretty “thin” – you can’t tell intent so well (there’s no “ironic” font). It’s easy to archive but when everyone saves their own copies of huge files, it will drive your IT department crazy.
Group Messaging, eg. Slack™: It’s immediate and richer than plain text. If everyone is live, feedback can be synchronous. It’s also great for archiving within the group, eliminating the need for everyone to have their own copies of files.
Snail Mail: Slower and slower as time goes by, it’s a thin form of communication, but good for archiving, and good for saying Happy Valentine’s Day (sorry, e-cards just don’t cut it!)
After taking all of the above into consideration, you might choose a format simply based on who your audience is. If you read my article on working styles, you’ll see the importance of being aware of your team members’ preferences in sharing data back and forth, but put simply, don’t send a low reader a huge solid wall of text email, and don’t expect high movers to sit for an hour in your meeting without fidgeting.
Here are the key takeaways I’d like to leave you with:
- Know your intent for communicating
- Pay attention to the qualities required
- Pick the most suitable format for that communication
As always, I’d love to hear from you. What works for you? What doesn’t? Any new tools you have found that really suit your team well? And lastly, feel free to share any communication horror stories! You can reach me at email@example.com