4 Critical Questions for Communication that Counts

Very large blank advertising signHave you ever thought, “Why is nobody listening to me? Am I invisible?” Ever wonder if your marketing efforts were completely missing the mark? Have you ever felt like you were speaking a foreign language to your team without an interpreter?

I’ve seen leaders succeed and fail because of their excellent or awful communication. (Myself included!) As leaders, how do we stop wasting our breath and make our communication count?

Communication counts when it counts with your audience.

Great communication starts with the audience in mind and ends on the audience’s mind.

For your communication to count, you must answer 4 critical questions:

1)     What is my message?

  • At the end of our exchange, what do I want to happen?
  • What issue or problem am I trying to solve? What need am I trying to meet?
  • What is my unique point of view?
  • What are my talking points? (Boil your message down to 2-3 points that are clear, concise, and easy to remember. These talking points are what you will share over and over again: in an elevator or email, in the bathroom or the boardroom.)

2)    Who is my audience?

  • What group of people am I communicating with? (Be detailed and specific.)
  • What are they like? What is their unique perspective? What is their history? (The more intimately you know your audience, the more effectively you can speak their language.)
  • What’s in it for them?

3)    Which is the best method?

  • Which method is best for my message? Is it a critical conversation that requires a face-to-face meeting? Is it an information update that can be accomplished via email?
  • Which method is best for my audience? Do they prefer face-to-face, email, text, or Facebook?

4)    When is the best timing?

  • Is there a quiet time of the day/week/year when it would be easier for my message to be heard? (Listen to the organizational, cultural or personal noise of the audience.)
  • How many times can I share my message with my audience? When will it count for my audience? (Just because your message counts with you, doesn’t mean it counts with your audience. Yet. In communication, frequency is your friend.)

Leaders, let 2014 be the year your effectiveness soars. Ask yourself these four critical questions and you will stop wasting your breath and start making your communication count.

What helps you make your communication count?

Leadership Q&A: How do I know if I’m wasting my breath?

Businesswomen Sitting TogetherMy blood was boiling. I was trying with everything in me to stay calm and failing miserably. The volunteer leader I was meeting with was furious and making sure I knew about it. As her voice got louder and more intense, I matched her volume and tone. When she slammed my office door on her way out, I wanted to throw something after her to break into a million pieces in dramatic fashion, just like in the movies. (But I didn’t want to bust up my precious jar of Monday chocolate* on account of her.)

I was fired up.

I shared this story recently in response to a leader friend’s question about a difficult team member:

How do I know if I’m wasting my breath?

The volunteer in this story was a smart, successful woman. And we had worked well together over the years. And I couldn’t begin to understand why she would be reacting so violently to the matter at hand. I kept thinking that surely if I just explained the situation again, maybe a little louder, she would hear me and understand.

I was wasting my breath. (Along with a whole lot of emotional energy and precious time.) And so was she.

In his book, Necessary Endings, Dr. Henry Cloud describes strategies for dealing with people who are wise and foolish.** (He contributes these titles and the teachings that go along with them to the author of Proverbs, King Solomon.) A wise person accepts feedback and makes adjustments. By contrast, a foolish person rejects feedback or explains it away. With a wise person, talking helps. Talking about a problem with a fool, or at least someone who is acting foolish, does not help at all.

In the situation shared above, we were both playing the fool. Ordinarily wise and mature women, we were both acting foolishly. We had allowed identity issues and fear and pride and exhaustion to override every ounce of wisdom and self control. (Sin after sin after sin – did you notice?) We both didn’t want to accept responsibility for the pieces we owned and we wanted everyone else to change; accept us, of course.

When offering difficult feedback or discussing a serious problem, consider how the other person is responding. Are they open to hearing hard truths expressed with grace and love? Are they really listening with the hope of understanding and making adjustments? Or are they just dismissing the issue? What kind of person are you dealing with: wise or foolish? As Dr. Cloud says, “the strategy with a foolish person is to stop talking and move to two important interventions: limits and consequences.”

Leadership communication is not always easy. Discerning your audience is necessary for intentional communication to occur. And for you to save your breath.

With whom do you need to stop wasting your breath? How can you change the conversation today?

*”Monday chocolate”: working for so many years with women, I made it a rule that we would always have chocolate as part of our meetings and ministry functions. But there was a special stash of the good stuff, little truffles from heaven, that we referred to as the “Monday chocolate”. It was reserved for particularly stressful situations (like long Mondays filled with meetings) or times of celebration (like finishing long Mondays filled with meetings).

**Leadership author and speaker Michael Hyatt has an excellent podcast on this topic: Episode #066 The Difference Between the Wise and the Foolish (and why it matters to you).