"Communication works for those who work at it." - John Powell.
The advantages of constantly improving your communications skills are indisputable. It can help you be more successful in relationships and your career, build your job and social confidence and enable you to develop stronger leadership abilities.
Also, effective communication is a journey, not a destination. Technology is constantly presenting new ways to communicate, and you will face fresh challenges and opportunities such as managing a crisis at work, contributing to a project team or job interviews.
Organisations can never assume they have achieved success in communications either. It has been reported that 96% of people feel businesses have room for improvement in both communication and project management. While 80% of people rate their own business communications as poor, or 'average'.
The starting point is to consider the nature of your audience and their motivations, expectations and limitations. Then, drill down your own intent. Are you educating, informing, warning, persuading or influencing, or a mixture of these? What is the outcome you need to achieve?
With that consideration done, you can use the 7 Cs of Communication - Complete, Concise, Considerate, Clear, Concrete, Courteous and Correct - to frame what you say or write.
"Effective communication is 20% what you know and 80% how you feel about what you know." - Jim Rohn.
Complete communication is not information based entirely on what you want to say, and your end goal. To achieve your aims, you must engage your audience, by including information they expect and want to receive.
Don't assume understanding. Is there context required, and do you need alternative terminology, to ensure your audience respond to your core messages?
Communication is all about creating a relationship with your listener/reader, and building trust.
This links with the twin pillars of business relationships – competence and warmth. Complete communications convey all the relevant facts, but in a way that makes the audience feel you are speaking to each of them personally, and their response is important to you.
The 'white noise' of modern communications - from a multitude of devices and marketing activities - makes people communications 'weary and wary'. They want complete information, but they want it to be succinct and to the point.
Over flowery or wordy communications will fail, as attention spans are now short.
Microsoft did a study that charted a 25% decrease in attention over recent years. It now rests around the eight-second mark, when something fails to grab and hold attention.
That means if you don't make the benefits of listening/reading clear quickly, your audience is unlikely to listen/read on. Let alone remember the information afterwards.
"To effectively communicate, we must realise that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others." - Anthony Robbins.
Planning your communications based on the preferences, needs and expectations of your target audience, and building a relationship, must include consideration of their emotions and sensitivities too. They don't want to feel invisible or part of a crowd.
This makes it imperative to speak directly to them, using the first person as much as possible.
"We really think this is something you must do, to establish your competence and warmth, and create a personal connection in your communications."
This 'C' reinforces the need to choose your words carefully. Make each one count, in building understanding and engagement, including sufficient context to help people understand your core messages.
Some orators and writers promote the mantra of, tell them what you're going to say, say it, then sum up what you've said. This doesn't always work in pithy and concise emails for example, though you can use your header and 'sign off' to frame and support your intention.
"Wise men speak because they have something to say. Fools because they have to say something." - Plato.
To be effective, the timing of your communication can sometimes be as relevant as your content.
If your written and verbal communications are appropriate, relevant and personalised, your audience's attention is more assured the next time you communicate too.
Delivering information to a preconceived timetable, or with no genuine purpose, devalues all the authentically relevant communications that follow.
A good example is bombarding colleagues or customers with emails, which 'turns them off'.
Concrete also refers to communicating when you have solid facts or a good reason why they are not yet available.
Diversity and inclusivity are important throughout society, including business The best communications make it clear that you understand the differing views, preferences and needs of your audience.
They invite feedback and open discussion, for instance.
Courtesy also requires that you appreciate not everyone takes in information at the same pace or level of understanding. Without patronising, your core messages need to be backed up with opportunities to read more, ask questions or access additional resources made available digitally or physically.
Both consumers and business decisions makers have a significant amount of scepticism and distrust these days. (As well as those short attention spans.)
This makes it highly likely you will get called out on information that's ambiguous or plain wrong! Also, your connection with your audience will be damaged if you appear to be disingenuous or untrustworthy.
Transparency, accountability and accuracy are watchwords for communications of all kinds. Make sure your facts are truthful and supportable.
This may sound like a lot to think about, especially in high-pressure situations and complex organisations with multiple audiences and communications goals.
If it can be summed up quickly, it's this. Your audience needs to know "What's in it for me?' and you must answer that question with competence and warmth, in as few trustworthy words as possible.